With every new year, we tell ourselves that this is the year we will embrace those positive and beneficial work strategies, but it can be hard to escape the old, comfortable habits. It should be no surprise that the same is true for law firms; we talk enthusiastically about innovation and a willingness to try new things, but when it comes to the crunch, it can be hard to leave our comfort zone. This is particularly true for small and medium law firms, according to the latest research report from Thomson Reuters UK & Ireland.
We spoke to 110 senior decision-makers from UK law firms with between 2 and 80 fee-earners. As I mentioned in my previous post, on the surface, small & medium law firms appear confident, revenues are growing and there is a sense that lawyers are providing a vital service to their commercial and individual clients. However, beneath the veneer of confidence is a more confused picture. Beyond the day-to-day business of delivering client service, law firms know the market is changing and will get tougher.
Lawyers are beginning to realize that offering great legal advice and professional client service are not enough. Indeed, they are the minimum that clients expect, and firms will struggle to differentiate themselves in a crowded market by simply trying to do the same things slightly better. Our research respondents recognize that business development, project management professionals and technology solutions will all play their part. But law firms appear to struggle to identify the priority areas.
When it comes to organic growth, small and medium law firms say they will focus on business development and marketing processes, and a significant number looking to increase their numbers of business development and marketing professionals. These figures are unsurprising, given the drive to new client acquisition.
However, far fewer say they will invest in the technology to actually assist their front-line client service team, including fee-earners, as well as business and marketing professionals, again indicating a ‘flight to safety’ – focusing on what they know and understand, rather than adopting new ideas.
So how best to succeed in a market which respondents acknowledge is tough, and getting tougher? One of the most revealing findings was that while 39 per cent think entrepreneurial thinking is important in achieving success, fully 59 per cent think they aren’t achieving it. A change in mind-set will be crucial in driving success for the sector in the future. Doing the same things slightly better will inevitably lead to diminishing returns, and is no substitute for a genuine, innovative, long-term strategy.
Read The Lawyer-Entrepreneur for the full story on the challenges and opportunities facing small and medium law firms.