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In five years' time...

16 February 15

As the Journal continues its focus on the likely shape of legal services provision in 2020, this month it is the turn of solicitors from outwith the big firms to gaze into the crystal ball

by Peter Nicholson

Opening our account for 2015, the Journal last month surveyed some of the leaders of our largest practices for their thoughts on the shape of the profession in 2020, now only five years away. But how does the picture look from further down the scale? We tried to cover the spectrum of legal services provision.

Still the personal touch?

How will individuals and businesses access legal advice and legal services, in the next decade? “Bluntly, in the way that best suits those clients”, Stephen Cotton of niche commercial practice CCW replies; and overall our panel predict trends rather than any “one size fits all” answer. Certainly, many believe that people will continue to value face-to-face contact with a solicitor.

Blairgowrie sole practitioner Farah Adams, for example, believes that the most important interactions with clients will still be in meetings or by phone: “While electronic communications do play a big part in transactions, the key messages to clients in such communications are in most cases lost, because experience shows that clients, on the whole, do not appear to have the patience to properly read or comprehend letters or emails written to them.” Personal contact, she adds, is much more effective for this.

Cotton too maintains that for businesses as well as individuals, legal advice “remains a remarkably intimate matter for most people”. As a result, “far from dying, many old truisms (such as ‘people buy people’) seem more relevant than ever. So Skype and Face Time help, rather than replace, that ‘getting to know you’ process. Indeed, one great advantage of growing older has been to discover just how little the fundamentals of the solicitor-client relationship have changed, despite various Doomsday predictions”.

Some advisers do see trends towards IT. Eric Baijal, of Wick-based commercial firm BBM, predicts that legal services will increasingly be accessed online and from legal knowledge providers: more and more businesses (of all sizes) will be doing “what law firms already do on a different scale, and paying subscriptions to various services to be able to access legal knowledge content”. While some firms may attempt to respond, Baijal suspects that “successful law firms will concentrate on the provision of advice, as opposed to simply the provision of information”.

He continues, however: “While the size of the traditional high street market may contract, and it is a different market from what BBM is in, there still will be a need for high street lawyers in Scotland. In five years’ time I fully anticipate that a certain percentage of people will want to meet a lawyer face to face, particularly when they are dealing with issues that are important to them and their families”.

Gus Macaulay, head of litigation at Inksters, a technologically forward thinking practice, foresees “both continuity and discontinuity in how legal services will be accessed over the next five years”. Both must be embraced, or firms will struggle. Clients “will still want to interact with a real human being and talk with someone who has ownership of their case”, but they are becoming more IT-aware and will want to use their technology for some aspects of legal services. For him, the aim is to provide the client with the choice.

Ian Ferguson, of Mitchells Roberton and the Scottish Law Agents Society, predicts somewhat boldly that whereas younger people are more likely to use IT or social media routes to access legal advice than their older counterparts, who will choose a recommended or the family solicitor, “As younger people become older I expect many will come to prefer the recommended route.”

From south of the border, Fiona Kendall, a Scots qualified family lawyer working in Leeds, sees a contrary trend to some. “Whilst there are clear benefits in having face-to-face contact with clients, many consider travel to and from appointments to be inefficient and expensive... An average individual can use a tablet to communicate in ways which would previously have been the realm of only the super-rich. Excellent technical support will accordingly be at least as important as legal knowledge in providing legal services.”

She also suspects that, particularly with remote provision, “The wrapper will be significantly less important for many than the quality of advice, quality of service and price paid.”

Competition: new or familiar?

That point leads into the question of how the competitive picture will change, and how solicitors’ firms will have to respond.

Virtually everyone foresees increased competition from outside the profession, though Ian Ferguson is not the first to suggest that “Solicitors competing amongst themselves create much fiercer competition than outsiders.”

Baijal expects supermarkets and others to want to expand their range of services, to include for example residential conveyancing, house letting, estate agency, and wills and executries. Accountants will increasingly seek to offer corporate law advice and transaction support. Consequently, “It will become even more important to differentiate one’s practice from the competition.” Clients “will pay attractive rates if the advice is expert, adds value, and meets need”; market rates for work that could be performed by other providers may well drop.

SYLA President Emma Boffey also expects non-law firm competition in both the consumer and corporate/commercial sectors. “I, along with many other young lawyers, are keeping a close eye on what Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers etc are doing down south, as they gain their legal services licences. These firms have already reinvented the professional services business model in one field (accountancy) and it no doubt has the potential to happen again in law.”

For Adams, the most likely competitive threat is from non-legal estate agencies, “which also may by then have become more regulated, creating a more level playing field” – though she suggests that without such regulation, many people will not entrust their case or transaction to a non-legally qualified person.

“The most successful lawyers”, she maintains, “will be those who can communicate without hesitation using the most suitable method for the particular circumstance at any given time.” That means taking account of what the particular client prefers at each stage of the transaction, rather than insisting on post/email/electronic portal or anything else.

Macaulay too expects a different way of practising law and delivering legal services to emerge – an “adapt or die” environment for solicitors. He adds: “Personally, I regard the next stage as one of opportunity rather than threat, but not everybody will share that perspective... The small, local firm can offer something that remote, generic, centralised legal service providers never could. If you can play to your strengths and do it well, there is a future for you. Smaller, local firms with a strong sense of identity are in the best place to understand the local market, the local context, the local clients and the local courts.”

However, “business imagination and entrepreneurial courage” will be required, and “There will have to be an extent of unlearning in smaller firms about the way legal services should be delivered. Out of that process of deconstruction will emerge new analyses and methods of delivering what clients want and at a price they can afford.”

Tom Marshall, President of the Society of Solicitor Advocates, has another angle: “The challenge for lawyers, as for all professionals, is to get clients and potential clients to come direct and not through some form of intermediary whose only interest is to cream off some of the value in the transaction. In 30 years in practice nothing in principle has changed in this respect, save for the identity of the predators who are trying to cash in on the professionals’ expertise. This raises not only a question of profit but also of independence.”

Cotton suggests it is “far too defensive” to focus on where the competition might come from. “Instead, we need to ask what is the largely invisible service we are providing, how proud of it are we, and how do we value it?” If solicitors are prepared to provide what he calls the “factor X” advice, they have little to fear. “We regularly have clients coming in for a second view when another adviser has set out any number of ‘clever’ possibilities, but has not been prepared to answer that most simple teaser: if this were my problem and my money on the line, what would I do?”

As for adapting, don’t overlook your business entity: “All solicitors need to realise the rules of the market apply to them as much as their clients. As a simple example, why are so few of us trading as limited companies and using corporation tax rates to build up proper working capital and reduce reliance on our banks?”

Working where non-law firm providers are already commonplace, and in a sector where legal aid is generally no longer available, Kendall suspects that the greatest threat may in fact come from the proliferation of online legal information, often posted by lawyers themselves. “In family law we have seen a significant rise in numbers attempting to minimise their requirement for legal advice by conducting their own research, drafting their own documents, representing themselves or seeking representation for only discrete pieces of work. It may be frustrating for lawyers to unpick the mess which can be created by basic legal services provided online on a fixed fee basis, but that offering is likely to remain attractive to the average person in the street.”

For the have-nots

One practice area has reasons not to go along with the “design your own future” school of thought. Criminal lawyers, as Ranald Lindsay of Dumfries points out, are at the mercy of “a rigid and structured procedural framework defining the job we do and imposed on us from outside”; allied to which, “Our funding is rigidly constrained by SLAB and, again, largely imposed on us no matter what we say or do.”

With the regulatory scene also changing (think quality assurance, for example), he continues: “In Darwinian terms, criminal practitioners have had to become very, very good at evolving quickly every time there’s a change in the environmental niche we occupy... it is absolutely vital to be very good at being reactive, and essential to be able to react almost instantaneously whenever change is dropped on you from a great height.”

Equally, you have to be good with IT to survive: “Most criminal lawyers still in practice are there because they are already very good at using available technology and skilled staff to keep their practices as efficient and cost effective as possible.” But if the justice authorities and SLAB “could please get their act together and organise some properly compatible wi-fi which we could all use, then the criminal bar will quite happily exploit it to the full”.

What of those who have difficulty accessing legal advice at all? Paul Brown of Legal Services Agency in Glasgow believes that in Scotland as elsewhere, there is “an increasing underclass of people who have difficulty accessing housing, work and indeed social security benefits”. But with expectations raised by the independence campaign, they will, he believes, become more assertive against inequality and, having little political leverage, will use the law much more, particularly human rights and public law remedies.

Hence legal services will be accessed by campaign organisations and groups, and information on who does what “will crucially much more be via a wider range of media rather than people simply calling into a high street lawyer”. The legal profession will need to become more nimble and creative, which means “being prepared, not only to take the lead in difficult issues, but also to act as a ‘guide from the side’ as opposed to ‘sage on the stage’ in other issues”.

Family lawyers may be subject to similar pressures, says Karen Gibbons, Scottish chair of the Family Law Association. Whether through cutbacks in legal aid or otherwise, accessing legal advice is likely to become more difficult. “Paying privately for family law services is simply not an option for many people, and even for those with that option, I think we can reasonably expect an increasing unwillingness to pay for services as clients do in the current environment.”

The result will be more private arrangements, more party litigants, more reliance on CAB and other advisers (including the web based, along with “DIY” solutions accessed online: she echoes Kendall here), and further movement towards ADR – with low cost competition potentially coming from outside the profession.

Who will be needed?

What does all this mean for people requirements? “There will be no reduction in staff”, Adams believes. “However, the most useful staff will be those who have a good understanding of the Scottish legal system and services, combined with technology, as one without the other will not be as useful in modern law firms.”

Ian Ferguson points to paralegals, “who will be in every specialism of law, not just conveyancing, private client and court”. He adds: “Working from home is growing, but there is a need to ensure they feel part of the team.”

Stephen Cotton describes his team as a “broad church for mavericks” – the ethos set out for CCW when it launched in 2003, meaning people who are prepared to provide his “factor X” for clients. “We know we won’t suit every solicitor or client, and there is nothing wrong with that”, he comments – but there will be a need for more like them.

Baijal believes there is growth potential in bespoke areas of law requiring expert advice, such as insolvency; and Macaulay hesitates to try and predict as far as 2020 but emphasises that Inksters is constantly looking at its processes and “considering whether we can push the envelope of delivering our legal services to the benefit of our clients”. The practice already has a legal process engineer to streamline its provision of legal services, which benefits the whole firm.

Reflecting her earlier views, Gibbons believes family law practitioners will have to be open to acquiring new skills: “Those who can offer a range of cost effective ADR services will be more attractive to individuals with a limited budget.”

Perhaps the biggest influence will be the prospects for the next generation of professionals. Boffey believes there will be serious competition for the best people: “For new entrants to the profession, it is a truly exciting time to be a young lawyer in Scotland... many young lawyers are now discussing their opportunities and ambition for their careers in terms of an international footprint.

“For all the technology available to us, people and relationships still drive the provision of legal services. To attract quality people, you need to have a quality proposition for new talent entering the market. I think in five years’ time, we will see a very real fight on between the law firm and non-firm providers to attract that talent entering the profession. Already, we see a large proportion of law graduates each year choose instead to pursue graduate routes with global professional services firms. If those same firms succeed in their ambition of transforming the provision of corporate/commercial legal services, the fight for talent between law firms and non-law firms will only, I think, become more acute.”


What role for the Society?

Once again, we asked for views on the likely impact on the Law Society of Scotland. Here are the key comments in reply

Farah Adams: “I see the Society continuing in its regulatory and supportive role, but also within a more electronic and technological framework which would make it more inclusive for non-city based lawyers in terms of their voluntary input and involvement in regulatory or support committees.”

Stephen Cotton: “I have always believed that we need a single, independent regulator to handle all regulation/complaints/discipline. Paying for two regulators (Society/SLCC) and relying on good people to make a flawed creation work in practice is not sustainable. Mind you, if I’m still about in five years, my bet would be on no change (and, in all honesty, I can’t see me protesting in the streets about that).”

Ian Ferguson: “It will probably have to give up its role as a representative body if it still wishes to regulate other legal providers. If however it still wants to remain a representative body for solicitors, the ‘solicitor brand’ has to be at the heart of the future for the Society” – to be promoted and enhanced as widely as possible.

Eric Baijal: “Given that some high street firms are already running on very low profit margins, it seems to me there will have to be even more effort by the Society to justify the value that it brings its members and the public. That may well mean a more streamlined organisation, concentrating on core areas; ultimately, however, it may really depend on how the profession evolves and therefore what members demand.”

Karen Gibbons: “The Society will need to embrace the changes which are set to come to remain relevant in its role as regulator and to continue to support its members as they respond and adapt to the demands of the new legal landscape.”

Tom Marshall: “It will have to be flexible and responsive.”

Fiona Kendall: “Its help in re-skilling the profession to provide a wider service to the public, and in marketing the value we add, will be key.” Growth in remote client services may lead to more sole or self-employed practitioners, and “Additional support may therefore be needed from the Society for that type of practitioner, who may not have the in-house support available in larger practices.”

Emma Boffey: “One could be pessimistic and predict that the pattern of Scottish firm mergers with English SRA-regulated entities will perhaps result in a reduced role for the Society. The optimist would however see that the brand and mark of quality of being a Scottish solicitor has never been stronger. That is the Society’s product and I hope we will see it focus its efforts to export Scottish legal services to the global market.”

For Ranald Lindsay the question is “problematic”. “There are a lot of good people working very hard at the Society in criminal law and legal aid, but the difficulty is that the majority of criminal court solicitors are used to seeing things from an adversarial point of view and see little in the way the Scottish Government and SLAB treat the profession to persuade them that this view is not appropriate... So when the Society talks about ‘working with’ these organisations, there is automatic and instinctive suspicion, particularly when it usually ends up with legal aid rates being cut... If we weren’t around, the whole of society would be in a bit of a mess. The Society is good at the rhetoric of acknowledging that, but actions speak louder than words and most criminal lawyers, used to fighting an unpopular corner, would rather see more fight happening every now and again. If too much time is spent on other interest groups within the profession in what is sometimes seen as a sort of proportional representation based on numbers of practising certificates, then, to the criminal bar, the relevance of the Society will continue to diminish.”

Gus Macaulay: “As the legal profession changes, there will be an increase in multi-disciplinary professionals... The Society is going to have to adapt to those changes and consider how best to regulate Scottish solicitors (and others) to maintain a high level of professionalism.” In addition: “Without ensuring that the poor and disadvantaged have access to justice and necessary legal services, we will fail those in our society who are often most in need of legal provision. That would be a moral scandal, and if we as a profession do not do something about it, the moral scandal will become ours. The Society should be doing all it can to ensure that does not happen.”

Paul Brown: “A well informed representative body aimed at both maintaining standards and promoting the profession has been, and will continue to be, crucial. It will be necessary for the Society to both formally and informally engage in housing and social welfare law in the broader sense, as well as uncompromisingly and vigorously assert the best traditions of the legal profession: and that involves continual rigorous promotion of a comprehensive legal aid system (both civil and criminal). Going forward, the Society needs to engage in a debate about remedies, including representative, class and group actions, as well as working closely with civic society to maintain an independent legal profession capable of addressing unmet legal need wherever it may occur.”


Online extra

Further interesting comments from our panel that we could not fit into the magazine feature

How do you expect businesses and individuals to access legal services?

Stephen Cotton: Despite the wonders of modern technology, legal advice, whether for businesses or individuals, remains a remarkably intimate matter for most people. In my experience, this can be seen in various client perceptions (and we all know not to rock that boat too much). For example, in business law, why should my office address (or even the fact I have a physical office) matter at all, or perhaps imply a competence I may not have? I don’t know, but I do know it still matters a lot to most of our clients (despite a marked decrease in the number of actual meetings with clients over the last decade), and is highly likely still to matter five years from now.

Ranald Lindsay: On the question of choice of lawyer, this will always, for the individual, be a highly personal one. “My lawyer” still means a great deal in criminal law and will continue to do so. Word of mouth and reputation will still, therefore, be hugely important, particularly in clearly defined localities. The problem, however, will be availability. The criminal bar’s reliance on legal aid means that it is heavily influenced and affected by the slings and arrows of outrageous policy. Perceived current Government/SLAB thinking seems to be that there are too many lawyers doing legal aid – particularly in urban areas – and that some sort of collectivisation will somehow cut down the cost. It won’t, of course. The only way to cut down on legal aid is to reduce fees or reduce the number of people being prosecuted for crimes... Firms who carry out occasional legal aid work will find themselves being squeezed out, simply because it will be too much hassle and will cost too much against the likely gains to maintain their qualification to carry out legal aid.

Paul Brown: Whilst some policy makers resist the development of public law remedies (the forthcoming three month deadline for judicial review is a token of this), others appreciate that legally informed engagement with policy making can avoid awkward truths being ignored. Sophisticated and progressive policy makers will appreciate the leverage that litigation can stimulate to improve policy making.

Housing and social welfare law is not, and indeed should not, be the monopoly of the legal profession. It will be increasingly important for lawyers to make clear to policy makers and potential clients the specific skills and insights, as well as access to remedies, that they bring as opposed to lay advisers. This needs to be conveyed in a variety of ways including through the press, media, direct marketing, as well as engaging with organisations such as charities, community and voluntary organisations and trade unions. Public legal education will become as important as direct advice.

Emma Boffey: In the corporate/commercial field, I think we will see two types of firms emerge, replacing the previous traditional Scottish “Big Four”.

First, there will be a tier of firms who choose to largely focus on the traditional sole jurisdiction business model and service clients only from Scotland. A new second type will emerge (and is already emerging). This new tier will encompass firms based in Scotland, but with large-scale international reach and presence. This development will be driven ultimately by clients and their market choice... This new tier will, over the next five years, move to a model of servicing clients from all over the globe, from Scotland. They will, as part of this, promote and sell Scotland as a jurisdiction of choice.

What changes do you see in market competition, especially from non-law firm  providers?

Stephen Cotton: Generally, with a few honourable exceptions, solicitors have not distinguished themselves in that regard [commoditised provision] and Tesco law, albeit not from Tesco, is beginning to get off the ground, though perhaps more so in England. If, on the other hand, you are prepared to advise rather than just list options (hardly original, but let's call it Factor X advice), I think you have little to fear... Indeed, with a Factor X relationship of that sort, clients will, in my experience, not fall out with you even if you occasionally get that call wrong (and promptly “fess up”).

Ranald Lindsay: When “Tesco Law” was a phrase in vogue, criminal solicitors often had a little chuckle at the idea of the in-house lawyer in Tesco defending shoplifters. For any significant competition to develop (other than the fierce competition which already exists between firms within the profession), then an entire new species of business would have to evolve. There do not seem to be any such new business models on the horizon, so the likelihood of that happening within five years has to be slim.

Karen Gibbons: I think we can expect the decline in legal aid family law practitioners seen over recent years to continue, as it becomes more and more economically unviable to sustain businesses faced with increased legal aid cuts. The offer of cost-effective ADR solutions in the marketplace is also, in my view, likely to be attractive to individuals who are either unable or unwilling to pay privately for more traditional family law services. We may also see the increased usage of family law internet-based solutions – “DIY” separation agreements and divorces.

Tom Marshall: For solicitor advocates, the challenge immediately before us is the impact of the Court Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. To what extent will the removal of large numbers of cases from both the Court of Session and the High Court limit the opportunities for those with the additional qualification to exercise their skills? In criminal cases the “market” is the Scottish Legal Aid Board. It remains to be seen what attitude it takes to appeals in the new Sheriff Appeal Court. Similarly, in civil cases we will have to see what sheriffs recognise as being “important and complex litigations”, to use Lord Gill’s words, “where the services of counsel should be available to both sides”.

How will lawyers and law firms have to adapt to these changes or otherwise?

Farah Adams: Clients require and appreciate different modes of contact most suitable for each and every stage of their case matter. The most successful lawyers will be those who can communicate without hesitation, using the most suitable method for the particular circumstance at any given time. I do not think clients will be accepting traditionally used reasons for any delays, such as that a communication is “waiting to be typed from dictation”. Twenty first century technological solutions will render that inexcusable.

Ian Ferguson: We should not fear the future but seek to adapt quickly to the changes that actually happen rather than the ones we fear. Politicians hate solicitors and heap on regulation and red tape. However, the more they legislate, the greater the need for solicitors to deal with and advise on the consequences of (often badly drafted) law. The Adults with Incapacity Act has created a huge growth in powers of attorney and guardianship work. The Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 effectively makes solicitors and the solicitors’ Guarantee Fund underwrite the Keeper’s warranty, and imposes criminal liability for wrong information on the solicitor. That will not work if unqualified people do it, so Registers of Scotland and the Scottish Government have an incentive to want solicitors to continue to be the people doing this work.

Stephen Cotton: While business development, planning and that modern buzzword “networking” all have their place, we also need to celebrate the truly random. Many of CCW’s largest and most longstanding clients came to us by serendipity and chance. No amount of retrospective analysis (and believe me we’ve tried it) can tie these clients to some outstanding CCW plan or wheeze. Which means you need to be nimble enough to recognise “off-plan” opportunities, and brave enough to push open the half-open doors life has a habit of revealing.

Ranald Lindsay: The court system, structure and procedure are wholly outwith our control and change all the time to suit various social and political objectives, none of which include the interests of the defence side of the legal profession. Equally, legal aid is an easy target for so-called austerity-related cuts, because it’s hardly something that will lose any government any votes. The Society’s recent discussion paper on the future of legal aid was a brave attempt to be proactive and try to influence the development of legal aid, but I think it’s clear given the reaction that it isn’t going to affect SLAB’s view terribly much, other than for SLAB to point out how many other interest groups were vehemently opposed to it and thereby seek to reduce the amount of attention they pay to the Society’s negotiators. SLAB and the Scottish Government will no doubt be very polite about it, but, in the end, they’ll do their own thing anyway. So we aren’t allowed to influence legal aid very much either. If you can’t, as a profession, influence your environment, the way you do the job, or your earning capacity, there isn’t much scope for you to be proactive.

Gus Macaulay: The smaller firm has a distinct advantage over larger firms in that it can be more responsive and flexible. Inksters is a growing firm which has been able to create a new narrative for itself in its provision of legal services, rather than trying to respond reactively to a bigger narrative in the legal marketplace beyond its control.

As for the next five years? Be the change you want. You can shape who you are going to be in five years’ time and how legal services are offered to your clients.

Even with the best visionary imagination, nobody really knows what the legal marketplace will look like in 2020. All we can do is discern the trends and trajectories that we see around us, and proactively adapt to meet the changes which are about to take place.

Karen Gibbons: I think that solicitors and law firms have to be aware of the likely changes in demand and be flexible in what they offer. In my view the days of family law solicitors being able to expect clients to pay hourly rates with no indication as to overall likely costs are numbered. Solicitors will have to look to provide services which are economically more viable for clients. Family legal practices may have to increase their ADR offering and consider how these services can be used to assist clients get to where they want to be, but yet provide more certainty than currently exists from a cost perspective.

Emma Boffey: Looking closer at my own practice area, I expect many of us will still be getting to know the new product we are selling as this jurisdiction of choice. We will be exploring a new court based dispute resolution landscape following the implementation of the reforms under the Court Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 and the Taylor costs recommendations. I hope we will also be experimenting with increased and more sophisticated use of technology in court proceedings from investment in the Scottish Court Service IT capabilities, as its property estate is consolidated.

Alongside this, I hope we are working hard for Scotland to be recognised as a quality forum of choice for the resolution of disputes. The infrastructure available to us with the Arbitration (Scotland) Act 2010 and a reformed court system, along with the strength and quality of the legal advisers we produce, are attributes we need to go out and sell to the world. That will be one of our USPs globally as we compete with non-law firm providers.

Tom Marshall: Lawyers have to be outward facing. We have to recognise, respond to and deliver what clients need. At the same time we should be prepared to defend aspects of the legal system which are fundamental to the protection of individual rights and freedoms. That means participating in politics and civil society.

Fiona Kendall: As a profession, we need to be much clearer – with ourselves and with our clients – about how we add value by being involved in our clients' legal transactions. Effective communication with clients, complete transparency on fees, appropriate delegation of work and excellent client service have never been more important. In addition to dealing with high value, complex work, we need to review our ability to offer unbundled services on an efficient basis. Some firms will be casualties of that process and I think it unlikely that there will be any real let-up in the current shifting landscape of mergers and closures.

What will it mean for people requirements in your practice or team?

Ranald Lindsay: Exactly the same as we need at the moment: good, well-trained and well-motivated people with the skills to understand the job, and the patience and skill to deal with clients who need the human touch to reassure them that their solicitor is on the case and doing all that can be done.

Gus Macaulay: Smaller firms which have operated in much the same way for many years will require a new, creative imagination to engage with the changing reality of the legal marketplace. The challenge is to cast a vision for the firm they want to be in the future and then implement a deliberate and positive strategy to take them there. That may not always mean that a qualified solicitor is the only candidate to be part of that strategy.

I suspect there are too many solicitors in Scotland for the extent of legal work which will require to be done by full time, fully qualified solicitors in 2020. Some solicitors may find themselves working in a context which is very different from what they presently envisage.

Paul Brown: Informed clients will expect their legal advisers to be aware of how their field is developing outwith Scotland and to be aware of likely or potential changes.

It will be increasingly important for the legal profession to avoid being “put in a box” and restricted to traditional areas of law. Legal analysis, a vigorous awareness of legal tradition (that includes human rights), and good advocacy skills will be necessary in wider areas, whether they be environmental, family, social security, housing or some commercial decisions.

Karen Gibbons: Family law practitioners will have to have to be open to the acquisition of new skills: those who can offer a range of cost-effective ADR services will be more attractive to individuals with a limited budget.

Fiona Kendall: Maintaining a tiered structure will remain fundamental. Whilst preferring to grow teams in-house and, in the process, imbue core values and practices, these developments augur well for recruitment, particularly amongst younger solicitors. Ensuring that those in the practice are appropriately skilled will remain key. Whilst legal knowledge should be a given, management, technical and soft skills training should be a standard element of ongoing professional development.

What impact do you see on the Law Society of Scotland?

Stephen Cotton: I find this one really difficult simply because of the very high regard I have for the many LSS people I deal with and the considerable “unstuffy” help they have given to CCW and its clients down the years. However, some readers of a certain antiquity may recall the halcyon days of AGMs at Gleneagles in the 80s, and one AGM in particular, where a wet behind the ears younger me was dismissed like a naughty schoolchild when he asked the Emperor’s clothes question about the fundamental statutory conflict of interest (being a trade union and safeguarding the public interest) that lies at the heart of LSS.

Gus Macaulay: Non-lawyers are already contributing significantly and, as smaller firms employ imaginative models of working that are flexible, responsive and inter-disciplinary, the Society will require to adapt to those changes if it is to remain relevant.
 

 

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