April 5, 2022, by Leah Sharpe
The Change in Legal Services and What’s Needed When Applying to Law Firms
By Modupe Allen, second year law student
The above question was posed by Craig Sharpe from Axiom DWFM who recently came to Nottingham to talk to students about changes in the legal market and the vital importance of students who want to work in the legal sector gaining a deep understanding of the fundamental shifts in the market. A law firm’s website is a window in many cases into whether that firm is resisting change, embracing change or somewhere in between.
Even in law, innovation is key. Although the law develops over time, the way it has been practised has constantly lagged behind. Some law firms are determined to change this. By adapting to new technological demands, delivering a more client-focused business, and hiring a diverse range of curious individuals, change can be made. In a digital world, law firms must learn to innovate – now more than ever.
What are the changes firms are beginning to implement?
According to Gunnercooke, clients desire more certainty when it comes to fees. Lawyers have held a greater bargaining power for too long – as competition in the legal sector increases due to the over-supply of lawyers in recent years, it is time that firms start to act with a client-first approach. Being transparent with clients will establish a greater level of trust in firms and increase firms’ ability to retain clients. It will also show firms are more willing to deliver bespoke services, enabling them to stand out in a saturated market – in fact, Mishcon de Reya’s slogan, ‘It’s business, but it’s personal’, demonstrates how this client-focused approach is beginning to be desired.
This does not just mean being aware of recent and significant commercial transactions, but adopting the mentality of a businessperson. More firms are focusing on recruiting ambitious individuals – those who are willing to experiment to get the best results. The Ince Group has seen a developing need for firms to gain a business perspective, deciding to expand its business model to offer complimentary services to their established law division. With Gunnercooke stating that they were told lawyers were “the least commercial of professional services providers”, expanding law firms to incorporate complimentary business practices (such as “accounting, financial services, consulting and pensions advice” in The Ince Group) will enable firms to better understand and serve clients.
Firms, such as Gunnercooke, are moving away from the well-established hourly-rate model to a fixed payment system – this transfers some of the risks of legal transactions from clients to lawyers, avoiding ‘fee-creep’ in the process. Gunnercooke goes a step further – they offer a service guarantee to their clients, demonstrating how there is a greater need to give and respect clients’ increasing bargaining power. Firms need to stand out in order to retain their clients – by showing a willingness to take on a greater level of risk, firms will attract clients that would have otherwise been too cautious to partake in certain deals.
How can firms reach more clients without prioritising diversity? They (most likely) can’t. A diverse workforce will be able to understand and serve a wider range of clients, expanding the reach of the firm. Diversity comes from nationality, upbringing, schooling – it’s about melding different experiences and knowledge together in order to gain a deeper understanding of any topic. This is why firms such as Mishcon de Reya value diversity and inclusion, with Mishcon having its own LGBTQI+ community providing ‘unique legal needs’.
The internet gets to firms’ clients before they can. Search engines are becoming increasingly accurate and may lead to clients knowing what to expect from the legal services they require – they might know if they are being overcharged, or if the service being provided is subpar. Review sites can increase this prior knowledge, shifting potential clients to newer and more competitive firms, rather than firms that are ‘well-established’ and follow old practices. In order to combat this, firms will need to be able to use these technological advancements to their advantage – Mishcon de Reya is already planning to use Artificial Intelligence “as part of everyday practice”. Legal services will need to be streamlined – clients now hold the power to grow impatient due to a firm’s lack of efficiency.
What should potential applicants have in mind when applying to law firms?
Eventually, most law firms will adopt the changes listed above. This indicates that the applicants who apply to these law firms should be aware of these changes, removing previously held expectations of firms and understanding the rapidly developing legal market. Each firm will have its own personal touch – but they will all require candidates who strive for improvement.
Applicants will need to be willing to learn fast and adapt quickly – the legal sector will not wait behind for them. Firms will be expecting a higher quality of work to be continually delivered, for if this is not the case, they risk falling behind competing firms who could provide the same services – but better. This does not mean applicants will need to overwork themselves – they should instead focus on working more efficiently, with an open mind to new methods of completing established tasks. For instance, with companies such as Avvoka and The Ince Group’s eLegal Technology Solutions making document automation simpler and more accessible, trainees will spend less time completing the tedious tasks of the past, instead focusing on how they can use their potential to push their firm forward.
Learning does not stop when applying to law firms – applicants will be expected to see how they can bring something different to the firm. Just like clients have to choose the best firm, firms will have to choose the best applicants. Mishcon de Reya’s Chief Technology Officer, Nick West, looks for applicants who are curious and not afraid to make suggestions or improvements. A forward-thinking firm can be expected to hire people who understand that the legal sector is no longer static; those they hire should be willing to be the drivers of that change.
It is clear that firms will need applicants who are willing to shape and revolutionise legal services – they shouldn’t be afraid to break traditions, or establish new ones. They will need to think like their clients, be informed about cultural differences, and be prepared to take risks in a digital world. The next generation of lawyers will need to be proactive and willing to innovate – as Mishcon de Reya puts it, “lawyers must move from the age of instruction to the age of anticipation”.
Find out more about careers in law.
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