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What are the challenges facing your law firm in the coming years?

challenges facing your law firmWhether you are in the top 100 or a small high street practice, the challenges facing your law firm in the near future are many.

No matter what the industry, there is only one thing in business that remains constant. That is the presence of change itself. For those of you aspiring to run, manage or grow your firm, commercial awareness is at a premium. That means monitoring and understanding your market.

So, what are the key challenges facing your law firm? Here are a few that spring immediately to mind.

Fixed costs in civil litigation.

Rule 44.2(2)(a) of the Civil Procedure Rules currently means that the successful litigant can seek an order for the unsuccessful party to pay reasonable costs of litigation. At present, the courts determine the amount dependent upon a number of factors.

However, a 2017 review recommended that a new scheme of fixed recoverable costs should be applied to cases worth up to £100,000. This would be supplemented by a further new scheme of capped costs for business and property cases worth up to £250,000. This would mean a significant number of case types would be subject to fixed recoverable and capped costs.

Fixed and capped costs bring certainty and predictability to litigation. They remove the fear of racking up huge costs for clients. This, in turn, removes the need for costs budgeting, costs assessments and costs management hearings. In other words, it reduces the demands upon the resources of courts.

However, the negative corollary of this creates challenges for the profession. A uniform approach for all cases, irrespective of complexity, will make some unviable to pursue. This undermines the principle of justice delivering fairness for all. The upshot? many solicitors who specialise in complex cases may abandon the market.

Data security.

We are all well aware of the recent spate of high-profile cyber-attacks on businesses. Law firms are right in the firing line for this type of criminality. They hold highly valuable, confidential information which can easily be abused for criminal profit.

Firms which do not take these types of threat seriously leave themselves open to potentially dire consequences. Clients are likely to sue for damages if their data is compromised. That is expensive enough. However, the resulting loss off reputation could be your firm’s downfall.

You need to plan carefully for such eventualities. This means having clear, regularly updated cyber security policies in place. Our three articles below will give you some key pointers in this respect.

Online dispute resolution.

We are now approaching year two of the 28-month Online Court pilot. This was designed as a testbed for claims of under £10,000. The aim was to resolve cases using a three-stage process:

  1. An automated programme that examines whether a case has merit.
  2. Conciliation and case management involving a trained case officer.
  3. Resolution before a judge if necessary.

Many consider this approach to be the future of dispute resolution. It is also regarded as a mechanism for allowing greater access to justice. The downside for legal practitioners is that it reduces the exposure of junior lawyers to smaller cases on which they cut their teeth. This could lead to a decrease in the pool of junior advocates.

Workplace technology.

Technology is not just the big game changer – it’s the big differentiator. The mechanisation of mundane tasks creates new levels of efficiency. This in turn will affect the types of work carried out by trainees.

Artificial intelligence, automation and block-chain will be the key drivers. Not only will they determine how the profession works, they will also impact upon fees. This article will provide you with a more detailed look at the possibilities.

New sources of competition.

The legal profession has always suffered from some degree of over-supply. Too many lawyers fighting for too few clients. That was a bearable situation as the requirement for a licence to practice made the industry a virtual monopoly. That’s all changing – Tesco Law is here.

Accountancy firms have entered the market at the upper end. However, smaller firms should take heed. The Legal Services Act 2007 is now coming into full force. It permits the granting of licences to alternative business structures. This allows lawyers to join with other professionals to provide a complete service. The new structures also allow investment in the business from a much wider base.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The number of self-help sites on the internet are growing day by day. These allow clients to resolve legal matters for themselves without resorting to a (relatively) expensive solicitor. Although still in their infancy, they are growing and making an impact.

Frightened? Perhaps you should be but there really is no need. It goes back to my comments at the start of this piece. All industries change. If you prepare for change and embrace it, you will prosper – usually at the expense of those who do not.

Mike O’Donnell. June 2018.

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