Poll: It’s all about the law – not the business of law

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22 October 2015

jonathan whittle

Whittle: “training is still quite academic”

Lawyers at small and medium-sized firms are motivated much more by helping clients than running businesses, research has found.

Only a slender majority said they enjoyed managing a business or saw themselves as “entrepreneurial”, compared to the 83% who got a “real buzz” out of practising law.

Asked why they practiced law, 64% said they enjoyed “making a difference” to their clients’ lives or businesses and 58% said they enjoyed looking after clients.

The intellectual challenges of being a lawyer emerged strongly with 56% telling researchers they were motivated by “solving legal problems” and 39% that they were “interested in the academic side of law”.

Almost half saw law as a vocation, while 45% said it enabled them to give something back to the community.

In contrast, only 26% said their primary aim was to make a profit, while a mere 13% agreed with the statement ‘My main interest is running a business, mine just happens to be law’.

The report for the LexisNexis Business of Law blog, entitled The Art of Keeping Up and based on the 2015 ‘bellwether’ research, surveyed 118 lawyers, three-quarters from firms with up to 20 fee-earners and a quarter who were sole practitioners.

Younger lawyers, qualifying after 1997, were much more likely to agree strongly with the need for change – 70% compared to an average of just over 40%. Female lawyers were also more likely to “agree strongly” on the issue – 55% compared to 45% of men.

Asked which characteristics made a “great small law firm”, most said it was an above-average level of service to clients, followed by transparency in charging and providing access to the best legal information.

Less popular choices were being forward-looking, ‘actively embracing change’ and having a clear business development strategy.

Investing in training topped the list of changes already planned or implemented, with 83%, followed by measuring client satisfaction (75%), increasing investment in technology and developing a client service policy (69% and 67%).

Increasing investment in marketing and taking on more staff were less popular choices (54% and 51%).

When asked about changes in client behaviour and attitudes, 71% of lawyers chose increased cost consciousness/more shopping around, and 61% cited the expectation of getting quicker answers.

Clients were described by more than half of respondents as more informed, in terms of reading up on their problems, and more demanding, regarding service levels.

Jon Whittle, market development director at LexisNexis, said that in other sectors, people approached going into business with a clear business plan and exit strategy.

“Their concerns are very much about the law, rather than a firm being a business with an intellectual property value.

“Running a business for profit is not yet part of the training of lawyers. The training is still quite academic, and in that sense it’s failing.”

Mr Whittle said better financial performance and growing confidence among firms was masking underlying problems and he was not sure many lawyers fully understood what was driving consumer behaviour.

“There is a generation of lawyers coming through who are trying to be entrepreneurial and are interested in running a business. They are starting to agitate and make changes.”

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