I’ll admit it’s been a slow start to 2013 here at Gazette Towers. So slow, in fact, that my ‘2013 predictions’ piece is now three days overdue. If I left it any later this piece would have to be a recap on the year so far. So my apologies for the delay, and here goes with a few predictions for 2013 that will inevitably prove wildly inaccurate by December.
1) A rush to ABS status
The SRA seems to have received a new sense of purpose in its Christmas stocking, for in 2013 it can’t seem to stop approving alternative business structures. We’ve had seven so far this year, but that figure may have risen already by now. One newbie, rather deliciously, is an international consultancy fronted by Cherie Booth, whose husband of course kick-started the liberalisation of the market when he was PM. Expect the current 60-odd pioneers to have at least doubled by June, with well over 200 by next Christmas.
2) Delayed armageddon in the PI sector
The cliched doomsday scenario rolled out by tired old hacks was always going to be a day late anyway – 1 April this year is Easter Monday. But law firm owners will go back to work the next day with some major headaches: legal aid funding is decimated, fees for most PI work have been slashed and referral fees are banned. If you don’t have a robust business model designed to work on tighter margins, it will already be too late. For clients, their chances of access to justice are surely diminished.
3) Chris Grayling approached to advertise flip-flops
It didn’t take a Mayan to predict that the government would struggle to upgrade the RTA Portal for expansion – but it was remarkable how long they left it before announcing a delay. The extension is still inevitable – the insurance lobby will see to that – but it proved that Grayling’s department is not averse to a climbdown or two. Weekend courts are already dead before they really began and the justice secretary’s tantalising promises over ECHR reform will surely come to nothing. The MoJ is for turning, and there’ll be plenty more U-turns to come.
4) More firms to give up the ghost
Running a law firm is an increasingly tricky business from the City to the high street – and it’s starting to show. In 2012, Dewey & LeBoeuf proved you’re never too big to go down, whilst firm numbers in England and Wales fell by more than 450 from May to November last year. Firms of all sizes must manage debt, growing pension pots and staff salary expectations whilst marrying them with tight financial margins. Then there’s the ridiculous regulatory burden of compliance that must place so many under strain. It’s easy to see why firms of all shapes and sizes are holding out for a merger or even takeover – and we’ll see plenty of those in 2013.
5) An underwhelming Legal Education and Training Review
I can say with some certainty that we’ll know the outcome of the LETR this month. What is more difficult is to know what it will contain. But success will be judged by two factors: have we reduced the number of graduates struggling to find jobs and have we increased social mobility in the profession? I don’t hold out much hope.
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