Big change in legal is a generation away!
I’ve been trying to write a post on this topic for some time. The endless talk of disruptive technology and predictions of a wave of change about to hit legal just didn’t sit right with me. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that we’re just riding a downturn and the 2007 gravy train will soon come back to us soon, but nor do I think some “Napster like” disruptive wave of change is going to alter legal as we know it.
No, we’re just a saturated industry that has become competitive. It’s nothing new, it’s business. And I think the real change is a generation away.
Well, at the moment the industry is very cost conscious, the firms that will survive are looking at costs and driving them down. Just like any retailer or trader does in a competitive market. It’s first the support staff, the premises and the back office costs. Then firms will look at unprofitable groups within the practice. Those that don’t address these cost savings will fall at this stage (and some have!).
If we’re lucky this might actually weed out enough of the market to keep the remaining players happy for a while. But then comes the next challenge, you’ve cut everything to the bone what next? Well if we were a plc in a highly competitive industry then we might suspend our dividend payments to the shareholders. In legal this might mean lawyers having to accept that the big money is gone and having to take a smaller slice of the pie. And here we have the nub of the problem, the reason why I think real change is a generation away. What lawyer is going to risk the pie on a disruptive bet? Better to make it fractionally smaller bit by bit right? And so I think that it won’t be until the vast majority of lawyers have come through the system with no experience of the pre-2008 world that enough lawyers will be willing to make the big changes.
And that is my prediction. There is no legal revolution coming soon, it’s a mature industry under cost pressure that will look pretty much the same with less firms, cost sensitive with constant eye on keeping these costs under control and with less lawyers being paid a lower amount (which will drop slowly over time).
It’ll be down to our sons and daughters to bring in the real disruptive changes!