Brave New World? The legal sector in 2025

Alastair Beddow, Associate Director at Meridian West, attended the  Law Firm Leadership Forum 2014, a conference for law firm leaders debating the future of the legal industry and the forces that are going to radically change the profession over the next ten years. Alastair writes his thoughts below:

Across a day of very wide-ranging debate, discussion and ideas-sharing three things stood out.

1. The days of the partnership model are numbered. A straw poll among attendees revealed that almost everybody predicted the demise of the partnership model by 2025. The rise of ABS, the need for more agile decision-making and sustainable governance in law firms, and the potential to raise capital for long-term investment were commonly cited as factors accelerating this trend. Even so, the strength of feeling and consensus on this point was surprising.

2. Technology is a fundamental disruptor to legal services. Keynote speaker Richard Susskind put forward technology as one of his three fundamental forces shaping the sector over the next decade. We have yet to really realise the potential of automation and innovation for the delivery of legal services he argued. Technologies such as IBM’s Watson will radically change the way we think about what a lawyer does and should do.

3. In-house legal teams are grappling with business risks, not just legal issues. For somebody who regularly interviews General Counsel at leading corporates and banks, this point isn’t new. However, a panel session with contributions from in-house counsel at Barclays, Unilever and really brought the point home. They are looking at commercial problems through the widest possible lens – not just a legal one – and are reshaping their internal teams accordingly. They want external lawyers to innovate too, but to do so quickly.

Whatever your role it’s an exciting time to be in the legal sector. Do you agree with these three trends? How are they playing out in your firm? What other things should law firms watch out for over the next decade? Leave your thoughts below.

Alastair will be sharing more views and insights about the future of the legal sector and how firms can respond to these changes with Ben Kent during a breakout session at this year’s PSMG conference on 19th November 2014.

[This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.]

[Top tips] Understand the people

In part four of a series of PM Forum articles on ‘the seven habits of a commercial adviser’ Ben Kent and Adrian Furner discuss how relationships drive business success. [Habit 4]

What was the last big business decision you made? Even when we believe we are making logical decisions, the very point of choice is arguably always emotional. Understanding people in business is critical to success; business is a social activity and relationships are fundamental. Professional firms are knowledge based businesses providing advice, in this type of people-based industry the importance of relationships is enhanced. The impact of advice, and the value that it can create depends on how it is delivered, and crucially, how it is received.

Being able to understand the people, their styles and drivers is fundamental to being able to successfully navigate the complex world of business and deliver success in terms of the desired outcomes. Whether we like it or not business is mainly about managing people and politics.

So how can advisers do this? A traditional approach is to perform some form of stakeholder analysis mapping the client team that we interface with, and potentially their internal stakeholders. This is a good starting point, but client expectations have changed. Clients now expect advice built on a deeper understanding of the context in which they operate and of their desired outcomes.
Advice must often be dovetailed with that of other advisers and stakeholders, both internal and external to the client. Not only who they are and their personal objectives, but how they work: what their processes are; how they will be using the advice; and how they will interpret it.

Stakeholder mapping

Carry out your stakeholder analysis, mapping the client team that you interface with and their internal stakeholders as early as possible after the kick-off meeting. Keep this updated as a live document and most importantly share it with your team.

Dig deeper

Find out about all aspects of a business situation. It is easy to think of a particular client as a collective represented by your main point of contact, rather than individuals with different views, motivations and thought processes. What does it mean not just to your clients business, but to them personally – does their promotion depend on it?

Do your research

The ‘soft’ more personal aspects of a business situation can have a significant impact. Build up profiles of each team member.  There is so much information at our finger tips spending time googling individuals or using LinkedIn is time well-spent. It can be really useful to capture initial observations from meetings and keep track of any side conversations that have happened. Don’t forget to ask if anyone from your organisation has worked with members of the client team before.

Think ahead

If you have a good idea of the position other advisers will take in a negotiation, use this information to anticipate and resolve issues that may arise ahead of time. Be open and collaborate with the client exploring scenarios together that drive the negotiation towards the desired outcome more quickly.

Simple actions

Understanding people is an art not a science. Simple actions such as taking time to meet individuals off the project for coffee can often be the most effective way to find common ground and build trust. This will set you apart as a friend or partner to the client, rather than a stumbling block to the client’s desired outcomes. Take a moment to think about relationships with your own suppliers, who are you more likely to work with and why?

A ‘trusted adviser’ is not someone you meet once a quarter in a meeting room. By getting to know your clients, you are much more likely to deliver advice that meets their expectations and achieves their outcomes.

[This article originally appeared in professional marketing magazine. For further details go to In the next issue: Habit 5 – Agree the scope]