Small practices and sole practitioners are upbeat about their profession and confident in the future, but also burdened by regulation and concerned about winning new business, new research has found.
The LexisNexis Bellwether Report: Survive or Thrive? questioned 100 individuals at the end of 2012.
More than eight out of 10 said they were struggling with the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s compliance regime. Rather than approaching the Law Society for support, many turn to online forums and social networking.
The survey found confidence running stronger than expected, with only 13% saying their practice had declined in the last few years. Some 83% said they felt quite or very confident.
In an upbeat assessment of their chosen profession, more than 80% agreed that they “still get a real buzz out of practising law”, although 70% also agreed it was “much harder to make a good living” from it. Just 14% said they would rather work for a larger firm, although a quarter are considering merging.
Topping the list of business challenges cited by smaller practices were keeping up to date (88%), winning new clients (85%), meeting compliance regulations (83%), keeping up with industry changes (81%), and economic uncertainty (79%). Surprisingly, only three in 10 named bad debts as a challenge or threat to their business.
Key future changes planned included more networking and investing further in website development. More than half expected to spend more on IT generally and more than four out of 10 said they would spend more on marketing or taking on more staff. Just under a quarter will consider outsourcing responsibilities.
Looking ahead, nearly half of those surveyed said identifying new work areas to diversify into was difficult, not least because it was hard to find the time.
Three-quarters of those interviewed said they need advice or support on regulation and compliance matters. In evidence they were seeking information from non-traditional sources on an ad hoc basis, over half said they had used LinkedIn and two thirds online forums.
Solicitor Nick West, Lexis’s director of legal markets, said it was “heartening” to learn that the lawyers were keen to continue running their businesses, but said it was “disturbing” that regulation was “getting in the way of a healthy legal sector”.
He said independent lawyers, sole practitioners and owner/lawyers in small firms were “an important part of the legal landscape” but some would not survive. “Dealing with over-burdensome regulation should not be one of the reasons they don’t,” he concluded.
See the full report here.