By Martin Wyatt, director, face2face solicitors
There can now surely be no question that the delivery of legal services is changing, and changing forever.
Firms up and down the country are in merger talks, firms delivering personal injury work are having to reconsider their business model with the forthcoming ban on referral fees, whilst all firms are having to confront increasing competition from the likes of Co-op, Saga, the AA and others brought about by the Legal Services Act and alternative business structures.
Long-standing and previously profitable firms are having to restructure, often leading to down-sizing whilst others are either voluntarily or being forced to close their doors for good. All of this is leaving experienced solicitors to fend for themselves.
If you are one of the many solicitors now finding yourself back on the market or considering seriously your future, then what are your options?
You could leave the legal profession altogether, make a career change and become a plumber or something similar. But do you really want to waste all that education and training (no disrespect to plumbers – they are very useful and can make a good living).
You could apply for a job at another firm but many of them are likely to be under the same pressures as your firm and thus are unlikely to be looking to recruit; the recent announcement that industry giant DLA Piper is considering closing one of its major offices, laying off a number of fee-earners and perhaps even partners, shows that the redundancy trend is still going strong. Perhaps even this is just the start.
You could join a ‘virtual’ firm where the principal business acquires the leads and hands you the work paying a percentage of the fees to you. This is a flexible way of working but the clients never become yours, you risk becoming isolated from the workplace and you will never own your own business.
But the market for legal services is still growing – the latest figures put it at £26bn per annum – and, although some people will become customers of online providers, there are plenty of others who want the best in client service and a face-to-face relationship with their solicitor.
With consolidation amongst top-end and regional firms, it is likely there will be more rather than fewer new sole and small practices serving local communities but they will need to offer their services in a more approachable way with a different cost base using latest technology, systems and processes.
One option is to take control of your own destiny by setting up your own law firm.
For the more entrepreneurial solicitor this is an attractive option. You are your own boss and in control of your own future, able to start afresh without the crippling overheads and archaic attitudes of some of the more traditional practices who are likely to find life increasingly difficult.
I accept it can be quite a challenge if this is your first lone venture. Amongst a number of actions and considerations you will have to decide is which structure to use, how to apply for SRA registration, find premises, chose an IT supplier, secure professional indemnity cover, cope with the demands of compliance, design a brand, create a website and marketing materials, and so on.
In fact, there are at least 64 steps you will need to complete before you can even start trading. It can be a slow, lonely and costly process, not least through lost fee-earning time and necessary personal income if you do it in your own.
Who can you turn to for help? Your accountant? They can advise on the structure and financial implications but they are unlikely to be able to help the latest available systems and processes and all of the other matters such as outcomes-focused regulation that you will need to put in place before opening your doors for business.
An alternative is to join a national members’ organisation which will provide you with all these things plus essential ongoing support yet allow you to build your own business for the future in a way that suits you and allows you to stay in control.
If you, and possibly together with a colleague or two, have the drive and ambition to set up your own new practice, then organisations like face2face solicitors that can help you turn your redundancy into a positive, life-changing opportunity.