The future of law - a brave new world

ARTICLE BY MARK HUSBAND, MANAGING DIRECTOR AT COGENCE SEARCH

About

Cogence Search is a leading London legal recruitment agency specialising in lateral legal moves. The Future of Law survey was carried out between 3rd December 2015 and 29 January 2016. The survey was distributed to 12000 lawyers.

A BRAVE NEW WORLD

 “...Reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need of taking pretty frequent holidays...” Aldous Huxley, Brave New WorldThe legal sector changes and evolves with the ballistic certainty of a juggernaut and does so irrespective of the preferences and choices of the participants almost as if they were peripheral to the process of delivering legal services.

We are, because of what we do, entirely focussed on the personnel involved in legal practice and the purpose of this survey was to discover their views on the present direction of law as well as how the profession is viewed by those within it and what individuals want to get out of their career.

The last several years have seen an endless sequence of mergers and mega- mergers, coupled with cost saving measures such as near-shoring and off- shoring; project management; and the use of “resource managers” to ensure that utilisation rates are as high as possible. Now City based firms are pro-actively seeking to reduce their London footprint to take account of the increased rental costs of a city office coupled with the ever present pressure on fees. This does not seem to equate to a reduction in headcount but rather to the more efficient use of space by moving to open plan offices which, while often unpopular, can equate to an overhead saving of £21,800 per lawyer. Whether this saving is off-set by decreased staff retention and/or engagement only time will tell.

Client attraction

At the time of writing this note a very useful article has been published on The Lawyer website by Tony Besse; formerly of Freshfields and now a career coach. He echoes a large part of the content of our blog dealing with career progression in suggesting that firms primarily wish to attract people who are able to attract [and retain] clients. He says

“Law firms are strange organisations in that your ability to become a partner or move up the partnership ladder is dependent on ability to bring in clients and revenue. It’s every man for himself, to some extent tempered by people working in teams, but at the end of the day it’s very much about what you bring in”.

He is absolutely right. But, for individuals who wish to progress and enjoy career longevity and success this need to bring in work clashes with the desire of large firms to institutionalise clients within Nationally or Globally agreed Panel appointments. Asserting that you have worked on panel appointments for several years will not assist in a lateral move process should you seek such a move! 

Brave new world

So where do lawyers fit into this Brave New World? Do we decant an “Alpha” to be a Partner; a “Beta” to be a career associate, etc. and by doing so ensure that each person is satisfied with their station? Do we fix the length of a legal career in the bottle? Could we drip-feed Soma into the coffee pots of the document review team? Clearly we cannot. The fact is that law firms are businesses – they are not constructed to provide the entertaining and stimulating environment envisaged in Huxley’s chemically maintained totalitarian utopia.

Law firms are and always have been a Darwinian environment, each firm its own ecosystem. For the individual lawyer whose aspirations are not, or cannot be, met by the firm this can be uncomfortable or even manifestly unfair. In such circumstances, these lawyers may either elect to seek a more congenial environment, adapt to the environment they are in or leave private practice altogether. Our survey results indicated that 27% of responders would not wish to work in a firm similar to their own if they were to change employer. A considerable 40% of this group would elect to work in an in-house position rather than continue in private practice.

The responses shown in the charts on the following pages indicate that lawyers are very aware of the vast array of career alternatives open to them. Pleasingly, we found that a very large proportion of responders still consider law to be both “a vocation” and “a prestigious profession”.

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