Richard Susskind’s book “The End of Lawyers” does not propose to rid the world of lawyers in Dr Evil style, but does write a fairly gloomy prediction that lawyers, as we know them, shall essentially cease to exist in their current form.
It’s true. But I want to take a much more positive angle because these changing times, unprecedented in the history of our legal profession, throw up all sorts of exciting new things.
Times are changing. And fast. The Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA) has revolutionised how we provide legal services. The next generation of lawyers – that’ll be you – has new career opportunities opening up that their predecessors could barely imagine.
But rather like looking down a canyon, attached to humanity solely by limp bunge rope, it’s a little bit exciting and a little bit scary all at once. Let’s recap on the Past, Present and Future:
To become a Solicitor you had one route. Or two, if you fancied it.
- One: Degree, Law College, 2 year Training Contract, Assistant Solicitor, Associate Solicitor, Salaried Partner, Equity Partner, retirement to San Tropez/ Blackpool (delete as appropriate).
- Two: Start work as a Clerk or Paralegal, study at the same time, qualify as a Legal Executive, go to Law College after 6 years. Qualify. As above.
That was it, really. And you could only do it, by and large, in a law firm. Except Public Sector, private companies or the Government. If you found yourself unhappy with your employer at any stage, you moved to another law firm where exactly the same structure was in place.
And to own all or part of a law firm – be a Partner – you had to be a qualified Solicitor.
The ‘profession’, (almost, but not quite, the oldest ‘profession’ in the world), functioned in exactly the same way, happily undisturbed, from about the mid-16th Century until, well, 2007.
Enter the Legal Services Act …
The LSA is a Government-led piece of legislation aimed at de-regulating and therefore expanding a sector reputedly worth £20billion to the UK economy, and the largest legal sector in Europe.
Quite tempting then for any Government to want to change the grocers’ “closed shop” into a commercial retailers’ “open all hours” and cash in. And it was time anyway. Frankly, 5 centuries is quite long enough to go unchanged, although I appreciate it wasn’t totally without evolution. So then, what’s the current situation?
Headline points are:
Anyone – subject to regulations, of course – can own a law firm or provide legal services. Non-Solicitors can become Partners, so the HR Director, Finance Director and IT Director, can now genuinely have a career path beyond being an employee excluded from management decisions.
- Partnerships, unchanged for centuries, are being replaced by Limited Companies, management Boards, CEOs, COOs and Directors with limited liability. Ownership is corporate not personal.
- Surveyors, Estate Agents, Supermarkets, Accountants, Financial Advisers, Insurance Companies, Retailers, florists (ok, I made that last one up, but it’s not impossible) can provide their clients with legal services.
- External investment. Law firms were run as Partnerships, with partner profits being divided, or pumped back into the business, as the Partners saw fit. Now, you will see external private investors such as TV Dragons and household names (not even Solicitors! Imagine!) investing and owning legal organisations and law firms.
This means that there are additional ways of financing expansion and evolution. Partnerships were open to criticism for putting more profit in the Partners’ pockets than invested in the business. No longer.
Basically, the Legal Sector is shifting constantly, as new businesses come in and join in the fun and the revenue. As these new challengers feel their way around, it has put heat into the competition, and has given a kick to firms that have buried their heads in the sand and not prepared for these changes. It won’t affect every sector in the same way but couple this sea change with the changes in Legal Aid then this is a seismic shift, a tsunami, if you will.
What does it mean in the real world? Put simply, more and more varied opportunities. Some don’t exist yet.
So, you may not get growth in the Legal Aid sector (criminal particularly) but ‘High Street’ still exists, just in a very different guise and this guise may still change and evolve. And technology will ensure there are far reaching changes, as competition drives down price, organisations use new advances to streamline and process chunks of legal work and document production .
You could be a self-employed Solicitor, if of an entrepreneurial persuasion. You could join a group of ‘virtual’ lawyers who can be based locally or globally, and share client matters online. Flexible working arrives. You could be an employed lawyer working in Tesco, or John Lewis. Who knows.
Customer service is paramount, so just being a ‘good lawyer’ is simply not enough, so if you like people as well as the law, you will be a popular addition.
Opportunities to be employed by major corporations who prefer to expand their own capability in-house, rather than instruct external lawyers, these are set to increase. And don’t dismiss the world of finance, property, banking, retail, insurance, private wealth or construction to find out where the legal roles lie.
The potential is also the problem because this is unchartered water. There is simply no map, so you have to think about opportunities very differently. It is critical to keep informed about what organisations are entering the market – you are learning at the same time as anyone else, so what a great time to be ahead of the people who are interviewing you!
Read the legal press – www.legalfutures.co.uk is useful as a news source about the new landscape. Send your CV off speculatively, chat not only to law firms but to new entrants into the sector. Ask what their firm or organisation will look like 5 years post-Legal Services Act. It’s an impressive question, and many won’t be able to answer exactly – because no-one knows.
Draw the map, keep your eyes peeled and if you struggle to find traditional opportunities the traditional way, then look differently. You’ll find the future, and probably make it.