The advent of ABS and the personal opportunities that will follow throw into focus the skills required to manage and promote a successful law firm.
Over many years, firms have invested in a robust and in many cases excellent management team, bringing together a full range of management skills - financial, personnel, business development, systems, risk and compliance and others.
Many approach this on the basis that management skills are always subordinate and less important than legal skills.
This is understandable: first there were lawyers and then there were support staff – fee earners and non-fee earners.
Historically firms were owned and managed by the partners who worked in them. They delegated work to clerks and solicitors and in due course parts of administration.
However, over time, and as law firms have increased in size and complexity, the work undertaken by the management team has become every bit as important as many aspects of the work undertaken by lawyers.
Unfortunately, some of the language used to describe the benefits of outsourcing may encourage lawyers to overlook the value and ambition of those working in the day-to-day management of law firms.
The traditional reality of ownership pre-ABS is consistent with solicitors providing capital, accepting risk and therefore taking the profits.
In this context firms spend time, effort and money mentoring and promoting the best legal talent, creating structure to support the encouragement and selection of the best, perhaps paying less attention to those working within the management teams themselves.
It is likely that this will soon be seen as outmoded and anachronistic, creating a business risk, as "support" staff become increasingly mobile.
ABS will encourage new entrants, the restructuring of existing providers and the opportunity to share ownership and profit with non-lawyers.
Outcomes Focused Regulation will encourage firms to develop their own rules for the demonstrable delivery of mandatory principles.
Those starting with a clean sheet will look hard at the skills required to run a profitable legal business.
The answer will include a mix of excellent lawyers and managers, whose value in the context of many law firms will be equivalent.
They expect their rewards, both by way of income and participation in ownership to reflect their value relative to each other.
Firms that don't recognise this will risk losing their best talent to others who do.
A law firm is the sum of its parts.
We work together and contribute our different skills jointly to the benefit of our clients. In order to demonstrate this, old fashioned demarcation lines should be avoided and members of the firm treated similarly.
We should take time and trouble to develop our support staff, creating career paths that provide opportunity.
We should involve all members of the firm in training (particularly the softer skills associated with presentation, service standards and delivery), in initiatives around the firm's values, in community engagement and, indeed, in strategic review.
The skills, enthusiasm and insights to be obtained within the support groups are every bit as good and relevant as those of their lawyer colleagues - in many cases, more so.
We need increasingly to provide similarly rewarding career structures and to encourage mutual respect and recognition from the lawyer population to those who work with them.
How many lawyers (particularly more senior members of any firm) understand that many of those working in support are highly qualified and experienced graduates, with a very clear idea of the opportunities opening in the legal services sector to well-managed and effective legal businesses.
Recognition and the opportunity for development and promotion are important.
Many firms provide their lawyers with access to MBA and other postgraduate qualifications.
Similar opportunities should be offered to others involved in the management and development of the firm.
Salary structures can be developed to ensure that support staff are incentivised in a way that is similar to the partners interest in profit.
Base salaries, with additional remuneration dependent on successful implementation or delivery of particular projects and firm profit.
The advent of ABS emphasises the range of skills and qualifications required to operate a successful law firm and includes lawyers, providing they demonstrate real management skills, and also finance, IT systems/operations, sales and marketing, regulation and human resources management.
There should be no surprise that this appears corporate.
These are the skills and accountabilities found within a corporate Board structure, to manage the business in the interests of all, including the shareholder/investors.
ABS will allow ownership to be shared with support staff or others.
Career and remuneration structures that reward the best support staff are long overdue. They can expect to be sought after and to become as mobile as their lawyer colleagues.
Law firms therefore, need to bind them in by giving them a stake in the practice in terms of reward, even if they remain unwilling, for the time being to introduce part of capital.
As a footnote, it is worth adding that those who seek to represent the interests of law firms or legal service providers must engage effectively with the non-lawyers who are responsible for important aspects of the management and development of the business, procurement of services and payment of subscriptions.
Recognition and inclusion are long over due.
Robert Bourns is Senior Partner at national law firm TLT