Articles filed under Legal practice

Long, long ago (2012) I wrote an article on this topic for the Newsletter and asked firms who had said that they were willing, in principle, to give some free initial legal advice, whether they thought it was worthwhile. Broadly, most of them did. You can read this article at http://bit.ly/INL1201venables.

This year I again invited a wide range of firms, via Twitter and LinkedIn as well as by email, to give me their views on this topic. The answers people provided are very interesting but no one is now unequivocally saying that “giving free initial advice is good” and I think that there has been a marked move away from this view over the intervening years.

Here are the contributions, in no particular order.

Richard Hugo-Hamman

Richard Hugo-Hamman, Executive Chairman of LEAP UK, gives his advice on how small law firms can become more successful

Building a successful law firm requires thought and planning but above all it requires action. 89% of all law firms have between one and five partners and, like many small businesses, they are often under-resourced with many lacking training in business or even rudimentary bookkeeping skills. What is not sufficiently recognised is the entrepreneurial nature of almost every law firm. Many founders of law firms begin as sole practitioners or junior partners. They rely entirely on their own skills and determination, not just for success but for survival, and are dedicated to the calling of their profession.

Introducing change can be hard but adding some of these practical measures could transform a business.

There have been two distinct waves of foundings of alternative legal services providers (ALSPs): one from 1999 to 2007, including outsourcing companies such as Integreon, Axiom, Relativity, Consilio, Exigent, Pangea3 and Lawyers On Demand; and then another from 2010 to 2015, including the new wave of tech companies such as Neota Logic, Ravel Law, ROSS Intel and Kira Systems.

The gap between these two waves is likely due to the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2007–08 – as is, I would suggest, the second wave itself, which rapidly developed in response to the widespread demand for better value from corporate clients following the recession.

Yet today, according to the Thomson Reuters 2017 Alternative Legal Service Study, alternative legal services provision (“non-law-firms” basically) is an $8.4 billion industry worldwide – and that figure doesn’t include companies that make legal technology to carry out legal tasks, which is probably at least another couple billion and change. So we’re talking about a sector that has generated tens of billions of dollars over the last couple of decades, at least 1 per cent of global legal spend annually, from a standing start the year Titanic was released.

I think that’s pretty impressive. And like many people, I’ve not seen much reason why this sector couldn’t continue to grow just as fast in the years to come. Yet there’s at least some data out there to suggest that that growth has stalled recently. Why so?

Sigmoid curve

Richard Hugo-Hamman, executive chairman of LEAP, discusses change and how to use technology to keep ahead of the curve.

Your law firm is a business, growth and profitability is paramount. You want to see your client base grow and your profits increase. More importantly, you don’t want to go backwards just because you are so busy working in the business that you don’t notice what is happening. You may have other goals – opening another office or being recognised as experts in a niche field. Whatever your measure of success, you want it to endure.

Creating consistent, long-term growth can prove elusive. The best way to generate long-term growth is through the regular introduction of change to create new ways of doing things. For many businesses, including law firms, the clearest path to continued success is through the regular implementation of new technology in an ongoing cycle.

This needs a culture of innovation so that your whole firm is accustomed to continuous improvement.

LEAP devices

The continuing advancement of cloud technology and the new ownership regulation means it has never been easier to start a law firm. Mobility, simpler and lower cost technology and widespread acceptance of remote working is motivating legal entrepreneurs wanting to start their own practice.

wolf

I first wrote on this subject for the Newsletter in early 2013. My views have changed quite a lot in the four years since then.

I believe we’ve seen that big is not always better, that well run, customer-focused, local law firms can survive and that trying to roll up 200 separate law firms under a new, national pink and black logo and name does not mean instant success for any of the firms involved.

So, who (or what) should law firms be afraid of, in 2017?

quentin-huntA surprisingly large number of lawyers are unaware of the right to bring a private prosecution and the potential benefits that such a course of action can bring. A private prosecution is a ‘criminal law’ action and is prosecuted in the criminal courts but if utilised effectively, it can be a very useful tactic either as an alternative or in combination with Civil Litigation. The following are areas where private prosecutions have been used to great effect:

touch2

A view from across the pond.

Remember all those ludicrous predictions you kept hearing about how law firms were some day going to invest heavily in intelligent technology that could do legal work? Funny thing about that: some day is today.

Here’s what’s actually happening, right now, with advanced technology in law firms:

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As reported in Legal Futures, the much delayed Quality Assurance Scheme for Advocates (QASA) – originally scheduled for implementation in December 2011 – is still showing no sign of movement.

QASA has been described as “the only way” to protect all members of the public involved in criminal proceedings “at an upper level” but has been plagued with interruptions and delays. The latest delay sees the profession awaiting the government decision on whether it will set up an overlapping panel of defence advocates which the government believes will “provide valuable quality assurance and enable the government to have greater confidence in the quality of publicly funded defence advocacy”.

Nick Holmes and I have been covering “virtual law firms” in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers since 2006. In May 2007, I wrote an article called “Virtual Law Firms – where we are now” which looked at several of the firms we had already covered, and cross linked this with the size of firm, the type of clients they were working for and the type of work covered. I also looked at practical issues like the need for social contact between fee-earners, secretarial support, handling accounts and practice management, telephone, post and fax (remember fax?), sharing of fees and (importantly) why they had decided to “go virtual”.

You can view all articles on virtual practice which have appeared in this Newsletter over the years at www.infolaw.co.uk/newsletter/category/virtual-practice/ (this includes a couple relating to Chambers).

Looking back at these articles now, it appears that the so-called “virtual firms” were still, at that time, trying to be a “real” firm, generally with a central office (which could be the senior partner’s home) and still requiring SRA registration, but with developing solutions for computers, software, telephone, secretarial services and accounts. Despite all the new technology, however, I would say that they were still firms of solicitors that my father (who was senior partner of Vinters in Cambridge in the 1960s) would have recognised.

Fast track forward to 2016, and it seems as if the phrase “virtual firm” is not really used any more, probably since most firms will be using many of the characteristic new technologies involved and they are just normal firms.

This article first appeared in Legal Web Watch April 2016. Legal Web Watch is a free monthly email service which complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. To receive Legal Web Watch regularly sign up here.

We all know the term "clickbait": content, especially that of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page.

It is now nearly 20 years ago since my book Legal Practice in the Digital Age was first published. The book’s central theme was that despite all the money law firms were spending on technology in those days, most of this money (money which might otherwise be going to partners) was being spent on the wrong stuff.

What law firms were spending their money on back then were mainly inward-facing, back office administrative systems, such accounts, practice management, wordprocessing and document management systems. Whereas what they should have been spending their money on were outward-looking, client-facing systems … in other words systems that could help deliver a better legal service experience to their clients.