Solicitors can be bearish and difficult to win over – it goes with the job. Yet even a sceptical ex-City scribe like me sometimes raises an eyebrow over the negativity that can pervade exchanges about the welfare of your profession.
Consider, first, how far you’ve come. Legal services is one of the great success stories of British business. Research on the future of the legal market published today by the Law Society shows that the number of legal professionals soared by a remarkable 145% in the quarter century from 1993 to 2017. I can’t move on the District Line through Temple and Mansion House these days without elbowing my way past lawyers agreeably billeted in west London. It was a lot easier to get a seat in 1993, believe me (and how I wish print journalism could match that growth record).
I digress. Such a breakneck rate of expansion was always going to be unsustainable, of course, unless every adult is going to be a lawyer or paralegal by about 2100. So the Society’s core finding that employment in the legal sector as a whole is actually predicted to fall by 4% (13,000) in the next seven years is a useful prompt to consider your own firm’s workforce planning strategy.
The analysis, by the Institute of Employment Studies, details the variables that could come into play as the market adapts to deregulation, technology (in particular artificial intelligence) and tougher commercial pressures. But this is no harbinger of ‘the end of lawyers’. On the contrary. What we will witness, though, over the next seven years are the ‘end times’ for the legal secretary – a role that will ‘vanish’ – and relatively unskilled office support staff. The number of legal professionals is set to keep growing (though Brexit remains an elephantine ‘known unknown’).
Also flagged are the skills employers will prioritise, such as good communications and team working. The most prevalent skills gaps, meanwhile, are likely to be problem-solving, customer-handling and personal organisation. As for knowing your way around the IT, this is rapidly becoming a given – a life skill. Like being able to read and write, you won’t get far without it.
The reports can be read here.