Big Bang or Damp Squib?10th October 2011
Twenty-five years ago – well, give a day or two – the City resounded to a very Big Bang. Whether we feel that Mrs Thatcher’s de-regulation of the financial markets was positive or pernicious, none of us would deny its immediate and lasting impact. But will the 2011 ‘October Revolution’ in the legal profession be similarly resonant?
Yes, today’s the day when, according to a somewhat overwrought Times scribbler in 2009, the alternative business structure (ABS) ‘will ‘blow apart the established conventions of the law’. The implementation of ABSs – via the new Legal Services Act (LSA) – will permit the external ownership of law firms and allow them to seek investment via private equity or a stock market floatation. The LSA also provides the opportunity for non-lawyers, such as accountants and other professionals, to operate within law firms and, equally, it will enable businesses of all kinds to sell legal services.
Do consumers want it?
The implications of the so-called ‘Tesco Law’ (named as such because, in theory, Tesco or other retailers could offer legal services) have, understandably, alarmed elements of the profession, particularly smaller firms offering ‘domestic’ legal services; e.g. conveyancing, wills, etc. Aside from concerns about their ability to compete effectively with large companies – with equally large marketing budgets – many lawyers believe that the commoditisation of volume legal services and their sale via retailers and high street banks will undermine the profession and what it means to be a lawyer.
However, for the majority of consumers, the opportunity to purchase legal services from long-established brands that they know and trust will be welcomed. And the new entrants will be trading on this ‘familiarity’. As Co-operative Legal Services managing director Eddie Ryan recently told The Lawyer, whilst brands like the Co-op may not be synonymous with the law, they are based on ethical values and trust, and that translates easily into selling legal services.
What does the future hold?
The implementation of the LSA and subsequent shake-up in the market presents an opportunity for forward-thinking law firms to utilise their reputation to carve out a place for them in the changing marketplace, by differentiating themselves from their competitors – via a combination of marketing, PR, business development, branding and internal and external communications.
People are always sceptical about change which, initially, appears unnecessary. But most of us manage, eventually, to embrace it. It’s worth remembering that, less than 15 years ago, Professor Richard Susskind, was reported to the Law Society for bringing the profession into disrepute. Why? Because he dared to suggest that email would one day become the standard medium of communication between lawyer and client.
Let’s all give a cautious welcome to this brave new world and hope, as Miranda suggested – The Tempest: Act 5, Scene 1, (in case you want to look it up!) – that it will accommodate a host of new ‘noble creatures’.