“I’m sorry, did you say it was an elephant?”
“No, I said it was irrelevant”
…I really do hesitate to write this piece… just how many times can someone write about a subject practically no-one (it appears) cares two hoots about and still want to say some more?
Ask most people about the Law Society (yes I know I am sorry but it is another article about the Law Society) and they will have something negative to say or have no opinion at all… and it seems to me at least that it was ever thus.
So what am I banging on about now? Well it is this… Deregulation.
For the very few of you who are still left reading this and who have not turned to the job adverts let me explain a little more.
Some time between the time that David Beckham is next playing in a World Cup finals tournament in 2006 and when London is perhaps hosting the 2012 Olympics there might not be a Law Society anymore and you are unlikely to be working in the same way for the same businesses.
There are three major, major issues to confront and deal with:
- Self-regulation is under the spotlight and if the government appointed banker Mr Clementi charged with reviewing the legal profession decides it must go, what price the survival of a professional body that exists almost entirely on the back of the practising certificate fee?
- Then there is the strong likelihood that employed solicitors will be able to act for their employer’s customers. Does this mean that in-house lawyers will suddenly be involved in advice clinics for shoppers? I doubt it, but it does mean all manner of business models can be set up to deliver legal services in direct competition to the traditional model of the law firm.
- Thirdly there is the real prospect of larger law firms being able to raise capital by giving up equity…”Big City Firm PLC” will be here before the turn of the decade.
Let’s just recap…no Law Society, incorporated (possibly quoted) global law firms and legal services being part of the product offerings from well-known non-legal brands…all within ten years…
Now I’may be wrong. In ten years time we might be where we are today with the elephant. On the other hand this next ten years might be the most radical in the profession’s entire history.
You may not care much or at all about what goes on at Chancery Lane but surely it is of some passing interest whether you have a job, a career and how or where you might be earn a living?
Perhaps it might just raise a flicker of interest given the potential new opportunities, the hopes and concerns, the threats and the real prospect of genuinely entrepreneurial thinking…
What do I think will happen?
Well, my opinions are not any more valid than anyone else’s just now because no one frankly knows what will happen, but if I had to guess what will happen it would be this:
- I think self-regulation will go and lawyers will in future work under the auspices of a new “super-regulator”.
- As a consequence, the Law Society will change fundamentally and might be lost altogether even as a meaningful representational force.
- Employed solicitors will eventually out number their colleagues in private practice.
- Technology developments, driven by new investment from outside the profession, will open up markets, reduce cost (some will complain that it will reduce quality too) and force many traditional firms out of business.
- Private equity will transform major law firms and they will compete nationally and globally with the accountancy businesses at last.
- The new owners of the new Legal business models will find ways of combining and bundling legal services with other products and services. A move that will be very welcome to most consumers.
- Access to advice will be easier and less expensive and driven by brand.
- The independent bar will probably die notwithstanding their political friends.
I do not think all of this is necessarily a good thing, but that’s not the point.
I actually think that self-regulation is better (if it can be done well) than regulation by a government sponsored quango. I would also love the Law Society to be a genuinely reforming, freethinking protector of the rule of law and access to justice. It should attract the very best we have to offer. It should be respected and admired and lawyers should be proud to be part of it…I can dream.
But for the rest of the changes…some things will be predictably awful and some things will be truly outstanding, changing the way we think of legal advice and legal services forever.
So, while all of that is speculation and may not come to pass, let me say something I believe to be true.
You should be involved; you actually must get involved. You should have opinions and you should be shaping the debates that will now have to happen.
If you care about the law, about the role of lawyers, about those who want and need legal services or if you just care about paying your mortgage repayments there is much you need to consider.
Personally I care very much about the Law Society, but even if you are totally antagonistic, do not let the next few years go by without having some say in the way legal services are reformed.
This is a once in a career opportunity and it is the most important structural debate that there has ever been. It is just beginning. Don’t be an elephant.