What's in store for the legal and professional market in 2016?

Chris Bull is a leading retained advisor to and commentator on the legal and professional services market. He is Executive Director of Kingsmead Square, the market's leading retained advisory group, and is KPMG's Ambassador for Professional Practices.

I get called up for my New Year predictions a lot around this time of year, especially in terms of what is going to happen next as a 'new normal' in professional services emerges. Five words we will hear a lot more of resounding around the professional services world during 2016:

  • App - hardly a new concept in consumer markets and for tech and B2C companies, but now becoming a watchword for professional firms who recognise they need to connect better with clients and for software vendors in presenting every type of service to their users. The switch from 'why would I or my clients have any use for an App?!' to this level of interest in just a few years is dramatic, underlining the permanent shift to a Cloud-based, interactive and mobile world.  
  • AI - the buzz around Artificial Intelligence has been hard to avoid over recent months, but we are now witnessing a wave of new software being deployed that may well prove to be the seed of the predicted dramatic shift away from labour to automation in many types of professions, replacing ranks of lawyers, accountants, support staff and secretaries.  
  • Analytics - not every business has the scale or IT challenge to justify 'Big Data' initiatives, but now every size of business is finding urgent uses for smart, Cloud-based, agile analytic tools - from profit improvement to sales pipeline, procurement to the impending modern slavery compliance.  
  • Alternative business models - across the professional sector we are seeing start-ups, spin-outs, virtual or distributed firms, agile services, joint ventures and external investment models (including Alternative Business Structures within legal) not just emerge but thrive. Many of these new models take full advantage of the ability to run geographically distributed, highly connected and web-enabled operations with a resilient and flexible technology platform at the core - a long way from the traditional professional firm model most of us would recognise.  
  • Acquisition - in many sectors far too many firms are caught in the unviable middle - joining together will soon cease to be an option and start to be an inevitability for hundreds of these businesses.  
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