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John Brannigan's NQ blog December 2014 - The future is bright

22 December 2014 | tagged New lawyers news

Former trainee blogger John Brannigan has recently qualified as a solicitor, and now works at Fleming and Reid solicitors. All views are his own.

What does the future hold?

The November issue of The Journal contained several interesting articles which, in their own ways, all brought into sharp focus the question of what the future holds for the legal profession.

The articles addressed various issues from the new media age in the profession to the internal workings of the criminal justice system, in particular the abolition of the requirement for corroboration. Indeed, Mr Alistair Morris, President of the Law Society of Scotland, begins his article on the need for reform to the legal aid system with the statement that “the legal landscape has changed significantly over recent years.”  This is true, and there has been much debate recently regarding the changes yet to come.

I was reminded of the book Tomorrow’s Lawyers by Richard Susskind which looks in detail at the way the legal landscape might change over the coming years. He envisages the emergence of “entirely new ways of delivering legal services” and a transformation in “the workings of our courts.”

It is true that if the past few years have taught us anything it is that we cannot go back to the old ways of working. Change is inevitable and, in the case of our profession, perhaps necessary. Change here can include changes to the courts, which I will look at in my next blog, and also changes to the internal workings of our firms to name only a few examples.

How extensive should change be?

Susskind advances the point that firms are not yet altering the way(s) in which they work. Although I agree in principle with the idea of change, it is questionable whether, at the present time, we need to be making extensive changes.

Indeed, the article in the November Journal regarding the Update conference dedicated to sole and high street practitioners hints, particularly from Austin’s Lafferty’s view in addressing the delegates of the conference, that the firms presently in existence already have many positive traits which suggests that perhaps only minor to moderate alterations are required, e.g improved use of IT.

“People buy people” was the phrase used by Mr Lafferty in addressing his views on the high street firms. Indeed, this being the case, the importance of clients buying into a ‘person’ reiterates that many of the existing high street firms who have survived the past few years have been able to do so because they are regarded as a trusted brand of solicitors.

Contrary then to Susskind’s assertion that most smaller firms “will need to merge and seek external investment…[for] a new, sustainable, longer-term business model,” it could be argued that such changes may not be necessary.

If smaller firms continue working in the same way, whilst making alterations to their practice such as expanding into new areas or improving their services with use of IT, these firms will remain a permanent feature of the high street without the need to be bought out or to merge.

New roles within forms

A good example of how firms can begin to make important alterations/improvements can again be found in an article in the November Journal. The recruitment by one Scottish firm of a ‘Legal Process Engineer’ is a very new concept in the current market, the idea for which in fact stems from Susskind. The article explains the role of the LPE within the firm as that involving interaction between the legal knowledge and the management experience of the engineer.

It is a great example not only of forward thinking but of actually implementing an idea and creating a new way of working. I think many firms will similarly begin to engage in embracing new ideas and concepts. These gradual changes will, I believe, eventually take us towards a newer looking profession that we will all be proud to be a part of.

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