A Happy New Year to everyone. Usually people start a new year with a sense of looking forward and expectation. This year however forecasts are that personal bankruptcies will continue to rise and commercial property is still trying to re-align demand and supply, especially in the high streets. There continues to be too many law firms in the UK so it is inevitable that the reduction in property related work in particular is causing internal tensions. Merger activity continues to be seen as a way of providing a wider reach or clients and/or allow exits of partners wanting to retire. For more detail on recent merger research see http://www.lawconsultancynetwork.co.uk/index.html and click on the link on that page.
New entrants into the legal services market are focussing on IT and potential economies of scale using a less top heavy model of solicitor input. With so many law graduates unable to find training places, their job pool for ‘call centre’ staff who are familiar with legal concepts such as contract and liability is high.
It seems likely that people will buy their legal services in a variety of ways. Just as most of us now book our routine holiday breaks and flights ourselves on-line, and only use travel agents where we are trying to do something expensive or complicated, so will our clients source more routine legal help through Tesco or the Co-op in so far as they are easy to access, cheap and are user-friendly.
So what is there to look forward to for 2012? Comfort can be had from that fact that all of recent research into how new clients find a solicitor confirm that people prefer to use personal connections. For example, the Legal Services Board 2009 research with 2000 individuals found that 83% of respondents had not shopped around and that 25% had sourced by personal recommendation, 20% from previous experience and 15% by referral arrangement. Similarly the Ministry of Justice 2010 research with 1000 individuals reported that 75% found a solicitor through word-of-mouth or personal recommendation.
Life for everyone is more complicated and difficult than it has been in the past decade. As a result, people need practical help and legal advice that deals with their own particular situation or combination of situations. It seems unlikely that the new entrants will want to deal with difficult, complex work with its associated higher risks. It will also be interesting to see how ‘satisfied’ some of their clients become with on-line and call centre advice once the initial ease of purchase moves on to individual questions and demands.
Good lawyers enjoy dealing with interesting and complication work where they can use their skills and abilities to provide clever solutions. It makes sense to concentrate on this rather than try to defend areas of work that are no longer profitable and rewarding.