High-street firms must offer clients bespoke service to stay competitive
Only 11 per cent of lawyers claim having a sound grasp of the business world is a top priority
Lawyers predict that smaller, more specialist law firms are set to steal away business from traditional high-street practices that are unable to offer the same level of bespoke service, new research reveals.
The findings follow the publication of the latest Bellwether report, 'The Art of Success', by LexisNexis UK, which is based on ten qualitative interviews and quantitative research among 118 lawyers and decision makers in small 'independent' firms.
Although 87 per cent of respondent firms said they are either 'stable' or 'growing', more than any year since the Bellwether report began in 2013, confidence levels have dropped slightly, in part due to uncertainty in the economy post Brexit and government reforms to personal injury work.
Asked what the future legal landscape may look like, 77 per cent of respondents agreed that non-legal businesses will compete directly with traditional law firms for clients in the next three to five years, with 42 per cent believing that legal solutions increasingly will not require qualified lawyers or firms.
An increase in small specialist firms providing 'quality over quantity' was cited by over two-thirds of lawyers, with a similar number predicting high-street practices will lose out.
Just over half believe the quality of UK legal advice is set to decrease. And 46 per cent said reform of legal services by the Solicitors Regulation Authority would 'destroy' many firms.
The top priorities and success criteria for specialist and small firms differed from those offering a more generalist service. Twenty-seven per cent of specialist lawyers place a greater emphasis on being well informed about their clients' business compared to 19 per cent of all those interviewed.
Lawyers are also more concerned about the quality of their legal expertise, with 70 per cent citing this as a contributing factor to success.
Individual lawyers recognise that there's more to being a good practitioner than just having the right knowledge and skills. Over two-thirds of respondents claim that understanding how to apply the law to get the best result for the client is of the highest importance.
One respondent said: 'A lot of lawyers don't have to do a lot of law all the time '“ they have to use common sense and business nous.' Yet despite this, only 11 per cent claim having a sound grasp of the business world is a top priority.
Asked what negative issues had affected their careers, 94 per cent of lawyers complained of poor staff morale. Other top complaints were lack of mentoring, the stress and pressure of a 'billable hours' culture, and lack of common goals across the partners and business.
However, even though 61 per cent of decision makers complained of a lack of mentoring earlier in their career, only 27 per cent cited mentoring as a driving factor behind their ethos today. Three-quarters of lawyers also complained about mentoring, but just one-third said it affected their job satisfaction.
'Disenchanted by the way that larger law firms operate, successful independent lawyers are determined to learn from their past experiences and create a healthier working culture in their own firms for staff and clients alike,' said Jon Whittle, market development director at LexisNexis UK.
'Their firms' ethos, driven by things like bespoke service, good staff morale, fairer pay, realistic targets, and common business goals, is delivering both commercial success and job satisfaction.'
Whittle added that 'new enlightened decision makers are proving that business achievement starts with client care and a good working environment and culture for their people'.
'It's these elements, coupled with sound investment in the right tools, technology, and information to enable them to provide the bespoke services their clients now expect, that will help them to not only survive but thrive over the coming months and years.'
John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal