Law Society outlines 2020 vision

Topics: In-house,Law Society activity,City

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The Law Society has today published a landmark report on the future of legal services that pulls together predictions on how the market will change over the next five years.

By 2020, it suggests, the gap between successful and struggling firms will have widened further, speeding up consolidation.

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An ageing solicitor population will mean more small and medium-sized firms struggle to close or fund runoff cover. And an ‘hourglass’ employment market will develop, in which mid-ranking workers are ‘hollowed out’ and employment contracts become more flexible for qualified solicitors and paralegals alike.

As technology evolves, existing firms will employ fewer solicitors as more of what they do is done by paralegals or machines.

By sector, there will be more solicitors working in business-to-business markets as more clients ‘unbundle’ work; and fewer working in a business-to-consumer sector, reflecting a decline in the number of people able to afford advice or get legal aid.

More solicitors may also exploit regulatory competition, relinquishing official use of the solicitor title and setting themselves up as non-lawyer providers.

‘Big four’ accountancy firms offering legal services will post a bigger competitive threat, including in overseas markets, as will legal technology companies.

The fast-growing in-house sector, meanwhile, is forecast to expand further, with more specialist solicitors from City and bigger commercial firms jumping the divide. In-housers could also exploit the opportunity to compete with practitioners by establishing outward-facing alternative business structures.

The report, The future of legal services, was compiled from a literature review and three ‘futures panels’ covering B2B, B2C and Law Society committees. It identifies the main drivers of change as:

  • Global and national economic business environments;
  • How the public and corporate clients buy legal services;
  • Technological and process innovation;
  • New entrants and types of competition;
  • Wider political agendas around funding, regulation and the principles of access to justice.  

Commenting, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: ‘Individuals and businesses seek and depend on excellent, affordable legal advice at critical times. Solicitors are innovators and are responding to changes in a highly competitive legal services market.

‘With the upcoming [CMA] study and the government’s consultations on opening up the market to more alternative business structures and the separation of the legal services regulators from legal professional bodies, it is timely to look at the factors driving change to stimulate debate among solicitors as they plan and prepare for the future.’

She added: ‘Our report is part of the Law Society delivering its strategic aim of supporting solicitors so that they can make informed decisions about the future.

‘As the government consults on the future of regulation and the market, we will call for a fair regulatory playing field for all legal services, and for the solicitor profession to set and work to professional standards which it sets for itself. This will set them apart from non-lawyer providers.’

Readers' comments (13)

  • Doesn't this rather assume that the Law Society will still exist in 2020? How can solicitors "make informed decisions" when its newspaper, the Gazette, fails to report important stories?

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  • Did Richard Susskind write this report?
    He predicted the decline of solicitors.
    I find it astonishing how the summary above speaks of the Law Society's willing complicity in a dystopian legal services world, shaped by everybody except solicitors.

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  • "There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable" Albert Einstein

    There has always been a problem with crystal ball gazing and many well recorded instances of predictions have proved to be horribly wide of the mark.

    A report which talks about our inevitable decline as a profession, raises fundamental questions about coherence as a group of individuals with a common aim of professionalism.

    I for one would prefer that the Law Society excites admiration in terms of leadership by shaping the future debate over legal services.

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  • If this is so necessary why hasn't it been done before? If it hasn't been done before is it really necessary?

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  • My crystal ball vision tells me that by 2020 our dear old Law Soc will be in its death throes, and hopefully by then we will no longer be forced to pay part of our PC fees for its upkeep...

    113 CL will be sold off for a Hotel, and the proceeds of this and of their massive bank reserves will be given back to us poor wretches that are still in practice...

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  • It is unfortunate that the Law Society would write a report recognising the prospect of "more small and medium-sized firms struggle to close or fund runoff cover", and the regulatory burdens forcing us to "relinquish official use of the solicitor title,", but then conclude that they are merely telling us this so that we can make decisions about the future. Would they not care to intervene and press for change on our behalf? Is that not what a representative body does?

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  • Also...TLS will be disbanded as it is useless at best. With less Solicitors; the future for TLS is bleak (Every cloud has a silver lining and all that!)

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  • Let's see how their crystal ball works!!!

    The Law Society's revolutionary effort on the game changing 'VEYO'

    ABS-did not have the impact they expected and now it's reporting the opposite effect.
    Equality and Diversity obligatory survey that has no meaning!!!
    They are my top three,but know there are many more,actually just remembered the high firm fee just for existing,with no obvious benefit........
    I suppose this is my way of being skeptical about their views !!!

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  • Unsuprisingly, whilst standing back, observing and commenting, there appears to be nothing in the article about what TLS is going to do to influence the landscape. The reason for, we in the high street already know.

    Grow a voice and grow some balls !!

    Look at Vernon Soare at the ICAEW, he shouts load. I'll repeat SHOUTS LOUD and guess what, people listen. Unfortunately for us Solicitors he (and others) is slowly pulling the rug away from us because of years of church mouse, gentlemanly non-leadership.

    How ironic that we bear the costs of an organisation there to supposedly support us, which however predicts our own end !!

    Hilarious...add that to the £7M Veyo fiasco.

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  • I recognise The Law Society may be able to establish some changes, and given the level of discontent present throughout this website, undoubtedly do not do enough, however there are clearly some primary points noted in this article which have been glossed over by my fellow commenters.

    "As technology evolves, existing firms will employ fewer solicitors as more of what they currently do is done by paralegals or machines.

    By sector, there will be more solicitors working in business-to-business markets as more clients ‘unbundle’ work; and fewer working in a business-to-consumer sector, reflecting a decline in the number of people able to afford advice and get legal aid."

    These factors would seem to present issues which TLS could not have a significant effect upon, as it is unlikely that a reduction in their fees would translate to savings for the consumer, though perhaps I am being cynical in this regard.

    Predominantly it appears the legal sector is shooting itself (or its mid tier solicitors more aptly) in the foot by increasing paralegal responsibilities and technological advancement.

    Thoughts rather than complaints?

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