Some law firms will go out of business, but the coronavirus crisis will “undoubtedly create opportunities” for those “agile” enough to take advantage of them, the founder of legal consultancy The Legal Director (TLD) has said.
Ed Simpson said there would be a recession, which in the short term meant “less work and fees under the microscope”, but his firm was already “thinking about the future and the new economy”.
Mr Simpson said TLD, which is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and provides experienced commercial lawyers to businesses to work in-house on a contract basis, had doubled in size over the last four years to around 40 lawyers.
Mr Simpson said the crisis had “forced dramatic change” on businesses and law firms.
“I sense that in the first two or three weeks after the lockdown was announced, people went into panic mode, wondering how they were going to survive this.
“We’re now entering a middle phase, with people getting used to out-of-office work, which raises a different set of problems, as a ‘new normal’ begins to emerge.
“Some of the new business practices will stay with us in the long term – more remote working and a lot less business travel.
“We’ve been talking about video-conferencing for 20 years, but now we can see that the platforms are stable and we can get most of what we want done. The crisis has sparked creativity and innovation.”
Lawyers work for TLD as consultants, either at home or in their client’s offices, and must agree not to work for any other law firm. Mr Simpson described the firm as “virtual”, and it uses a shared office in London.
The solicitor said that, by being physically present in the offices of its business clients, TLD’s lawyers could “find out what was really going on” and “become part of the team”.
That part of the job was impossible under the lockdown, but in terms of their ongoing work they could do it “in the just the same way as before”, since they all worked remotely anyway.
He said the rule changes brought in by the SRA last November allowing freelance solicitors to operate and solicitors to practice from unregulated firms were a good thing.
“It will help promote competition in the commercial sector. Some lawyers are eye-wateringly expensive. For a long time, clients have not had much choice in how they access legal services.”
However Mr Simpson said that for many experienced commercial lawyers, who were used to working on their own for one or two clients, the switch to becoming a freelance solicitor might not make such a big difference, since some they may have operated “under the radar”.
He went on: “I think it’s more of a subtle change. People are marketing themselves more actively. The limiting factor is insurance. It’s very expensive and there’s a difficult market, particularly at the moment.”
TLD was the first firm regulated by the SRA to use the Bar Council’s third-party escrow account BARCO, which closed in 2018. It is now using payment processor Shieldpay.