Calls for UK legal services report to include ABSs, small firms and diversity

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26 February 2015

City of London

CIty: medium-sized firms failed to get mention

Delegates at the Global Law Summit have questioned why a major report on the health of the legal services industry included so little on new entrants to the market, smaller firms and diversity.

The UK legal services 2015 report, launched at the summit by TheCityUK, found that law firms experienced their strongest growth rate for six years in 2013, increasing turnover to a record £30.6bn. The report forecast further growth of 6% for last year.

Richard Chaplin, chairman of the Managing Partners’ Forum, questioned why new entrants, including alternative business structures and multi-disciplinary practices, failed to appear in the “mainstream” part of the report.

Sue Bramall, director of Berners Marketing, suggested the report should be extended to cover “innovative small firms”, which had spun out of larger practices, and were “a real asset in bringing in work” to the UK.

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Richard Turnor, partner at niche private client firm Maurice Turnor Gardner, told Legal Futures that the report looked much as it would have done five or 10 years ago, despite the “huge developments going on in legal services”.

He said there was only a “tiny mention” of the arrival of the Big Four accountancy firms and similarly small mention for ABSs. The report mentions the Legal Services Act and ABSs in a section headed ‘number of firms’ on page 21.

Judith Macgregor, British High Commissioner to South Africa, said she would have liked to have seen more on corporate social responsibility, training and statistics on “diversity and inclusion”.

Meanwhile, Jennie Gubbins, senior partner of City firm Trowers & Hamlins, said the report had completely failed to mention her medium-sized firm, even though it was a member of CityUK.

She said the report had the feel of “a large boys’ club”, and had also failed to mention Macfarlanes or Simmons & Simmons.

In response, Gary Campkin, director of international strategy at the CityUK, said the report team would look at ways of “capturing the diversity” of the market.

Khawar Qureishi QC, chairman of TheCityUK’s legal services and dispute resolution group, said the report was “the kind of material used by the government for briefings” in foreign countries and to an extent had to be limited.

Earlier Sir David Wootton, partner at Allen & Overy and co-chairman of the Global Law Summit, said the summit should be “part of a long-term strategy” to maintain the UK’s reputation as a leading centre of global legal services and dispute resolution.

He said that 40% of the law in all global arbitrations was English, and three of the largest five global firms by headcount were based in the UK.

“We are a key component in securing the UK’s economic strength and the jurisdiction of choice for global business,” he added.

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