Posted by Duncan Finlyson, manager of Legal Futures Associate Lawyers Defence Group
One of those strange co-incidences happened this morning. I was looking up the precise definition of “Kafkaesque” on Wikipedia (it having been used in an e-mail to me about the way BT was approaching broadband – or more precisely the lack of it – at my home) and then went straight to the Law Society Gazette website where I saw an article which seemed to epitomise the definition I had just read.
The definition given in Wikipedia was that the adjective refers to “anything suggestive of Kafka, especially his nightmarish style of narration, in which characters lack a clear course of action, the ability to see beyond immediate events, and the possibility of escape”. It went on to say that “the term’s meaning has transcended the literary realm to apply to real-life occurrences and situations that are incomprehensibly complex, bizarre, or illogical”.
The Gazette article that caught my eye was entitled “Solicitors believe ABSs will create ‘more opportunity’” (see here) and is the latest bizarre and illogical instalment in the plan to delude everyone into believing that alternative business structures (ABSs) are not a threat but an opportunity.
The article revealed that in a survey of around 180 lawyers, slightly over half thought ABSs would provide more opportunity for them, whilst less than a fifth though it would lead to fewer opportunities, and just over a quarter thought there would be no change.
The article also went on to reveal that in the survey, which was undertaken by Intrinsic Values, solicitors today place less value on their salary than they do on their work/life balance – presumably they are referring to those who have a salary and some work to balance with their life.
Who were this representative sample of our great and learned profession? Which 100 of the more than 100,000 are quite so bullish? Regrettably the article does not say. Possibly the fact that the survey was undertaken by Intrinsic Values, an organisation whose clients include Addleshaw Goddard, Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, DLA Piper, BDO Stoy Hayward, Deloitte and Ernst & Young, will give some clue as to where the questions were asked and of whom.
What was it Wikipedia said about Kafkaesque? Oh yes – lack the ability to see beyond immediate events.
It is possibly worth noting that the article appeared in the same week that Legal Futures reported on the AA and Saga’s plans to offer legal services (see here), the Co-operative announced that it would not rule out any opportunity offered by ABSs (see here) and the Law Society’s regulatory affairs board expressed concerns about the regulation of those involved in ABSs (see here).
Please can these surveys stop trying to pretend that nothing will change or that things will, miraculously, get better for solicitors in general.
Yes, there may be little or no threat to the larger city and provincial practices.
Certainly the public may, although I have yet to be convinced, get a cheaper and more standardised legal service – although if the banks’ attitude to the public is anything to go by, I have my doubts.
However, many high street law firms will feel a chill wind blowing around their probate, personal injury and property regions. As I said in a blog on this web site in July (se here) – “If an ABS enters the market, it will do so to produce a profit. It will produce that profit by attracting to it as much work as it can undertake profitably. Since there is a limit to the amount of work available, so that work will have to come from somewhere. That somewhere is going to be those solicitors who are already providing those services.”
No one is going to turn back the clocks and put is in a position where ABSs will not happen. They are coming and there are a number of significant players who are quietly gearing up to make the most of them.
Peddling stories that ABSs are good for the existing legal profession is the wrong way to approach it. Law firms are complacent enough as it is – they don’t need to be told that things will get better and opportunities will increase.
They need to be told to ramp up their game; find external partners they can work with; secure their funding and their client base; improve their practices and their client care; stop believing in client loyalty (a close friend of the Tooth Fairy); try and create a market presence; check out their profitability; and find new and innovative ways of offering services.
There will be winners and losers. It would be good if the winners were the high street law firms that provide, and have for many years provided, a service to local people in an accountable way.