Tick tock, the clock moves on, drip drip the prospect of Law on tap gets nearer. What are we talking about? – Alternative Business Structures that become available from the 6th October and the tsunami that could drown many legal practitioners.
Headline writers call it “Tesco law”, although it is more likely your divi from the Co-op could well involve law on the shelf along with the bottled water. We’ll have to wait and see.
The idea is that non-lawyers will be able to take a 50% equity stake in legal firms but it is hard to see who would want to do this as many Lawyers are riven and paralysed by inaction. The big buyers of services would be better serviced buying into a law on tap model where they have access to the whole market and can dip in and out as required.
We can’t see the banks and big accountancy firms having a second big bang with the law. Why would they? With modern communication the law can be on tap at the flick of a switch and location is largely irrelevant.
Many legal firms have severe financial problems and unless they increase their market nimbleness they’ll drown in the flood of new legislation that will spawn nimble, modern competitors.
Some say there are also ethical questions. This is underpinned by the notion that people seeking legal services are consumers. But lawyers suggest it’s not a conventional issue of consumer choice: consulting a lawyer is about accessing your rights. This, we would say, is a largely vacuous statement designed to deflect attention away from the existing weaknesses in the delivery of the legal system.
Where the Lawyers do have a point is are your rights being confused with a broad-ranging consultancy that wants to sell you accounting, auditing and advice services? Conflict of interest arises and leaks of personal data are a true risk. Chinese walls whisper, ask any investment banker!
The law has given membership organisations a head start, and the financial service divisions of Saga, the AA and the Co-op are already on the case. They’ve set up legal service divisions, largely accessed through websites where legal forms can be downloaded. Lawyers are available by phone to advise on how the forms are filled which has made us smile as this represents a systems failure in our view. We are talking about more basic services ranging across a change of name, making a will, getting divorced or disputes with neighbours and the front end of these should be capable of automation.
The consumer has changed, they are much happier buying all sorts of services on line – why not law on tap for basic products?
There’s also the prospect of franchise and federated brands being built up, in which small firms operate under a nationally-known name. Make no mistake this new world of law is coming, the more competitive the environment is all the more reason for lawyers to get some training on how to run their partnerships as businesses. Being entrepreneurial – or even the challenge of marketing, strategic planning or meeting a payroll – is not treated as much of a priority.
Now Lawyers can attempt to do this in house, which has been the traditional way, but as 80% prefer being Lawyers over being Business Managers the better route is to buy in the services required and concentrate on fee earnings to pay for them.
At the end of the day business isn’t rocket science, if you have no fee generating clients you have no business.
Adapt or die, the world has changed, is changing and will continue to change. Lawyers need to think backwards from the future rather than forward from the past to survive.
Author: Chris Slay
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