Jan 22 '13
In the context of a flat economy, a tech revolution and a client uprising lawyers and law firms are having a hard time of it. From all sides they are hearing that they need to adapt, rethink and reimagine the way they deliver a quality and price competitive legal service.
But what exactly are the main worries that keep the leadership of some of the world’s biggest law firms up at night?
According to Brad Hildebrandt, of Hildebrandt Consulting LLC which brought us the 2013 Client Advisory paper for law firms, speaking at the 17th Annual Law Firm Leaders Forum there are four key concerns that are rattling the law’s leading partners.
Firstly, excess capacity in the legal market has seen the number of lawyers outstrip demand. Brad Hildebrandt said that this is the “underlying problem”.
Secondly, clients have the upper hand when it comes to bargaining power on price. Hildebrandt added that things won’t go back to “normal”. This is something that we’re hearing more and more of. The leading legal news source ABA Journal has its very own blog thread called ‘The New Normal’ which explores this phenomenon and other similar developments.
Thirdly, law firms are feeling increasing pricing pressure. Lawyers can no longer demand price-hikes in the way they did in the boom years. And as we heard more recently the boom year fees were an aberration and they will not be returning.
Fourthly, three letters: LPO. That’s legal process outsourcing of course, part of the rise of the law’s acronyms that now rivals the alphabet soup of the financial services industry.
Brad Hildebrandt has said that the reality of law firms like Axion, VLP Law Group LLP and Paragon Legal providing lawyers to clients at less cost than law firms “won’t go away”. The rise of the outsourcing firms now means increasing competitive pricing and market share pressure for partners to worry about.
Law firms are not decoupled from the rest of the economy and we saw that patently in 2008 when the shock waves of the global financial collapse rocked the legal industry. However just as a down economy affects the law trade, so the rising mood will pick up market sentiment for the legal industry.
And whilst the 4 core worries are very real and are not to be underestimated in any way, there is a little ray of hope on the horizon. Well known legal blogger David Lat of Above the Law has said to Bloomberg Law that as leading economic indicators continue to improve the trading conditions for the legal industry going forward should pick up.
He added that he is cautiously optimistic for law in 2013 but ostensibly law firms should remain guarded and be ready to try new things.