Survival of the Fittest
"It is not the strongest of the species that will survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." - Charles Darwin
Many ancient cultures predicted the end of the world in 2012.
For the Legal Profession, 2011 will most likely see the end of the world as lawyers know it.
Change, ever present in the sector is accelerating. In the Legal Aid Market, the long predicted cull of Civil firms hit England and Wales during the Summer, with devastating effect. And although the LSC may have been forced to retreat on this, they are back with a new consultation on what may change in Civil.
In Personal Injury, we saw the introduction of the much vaunted RTA portal, with administration changes forced on PI firms across the country.
At the same time, the Regulators have thrown their hats in the ring. We've seen the Legal Services Commission introduce a new Specialist Quality Mark standard for Family Mediation, with Family and Criminal sure to follow, while the Solicitors Regulation Authority have changed the way firms pay their professional charges, while overhauling a lot of the rules in the 2007 Solicitors Code of Conduct. Add to that a change in the way complaints are dealt with and a new regulator for them, the Legal Services Ombudsman.
Throw in a distinct hardening in the Professional Indemnity Insurance market for good measure.
And of course, more changes will be on the way in 2011 with the advent of perhaps the biggest threat of all; the introduction of Alternative Business Structures.
So how will the high street firm survive all of this?
The first thing to do is for the partner or director to take their head out of the sand. This stuff will not go away if you ignore it, no matter how long you wait.
The second thing to do is make sure you have a plan.
The obvious question is how can you plan for all this?
There is no straight answer to that question, as there isn't a 'one size fits all' solution, any more than there is for the advice you give your clients.
All you can do is identify the threats and opportunities facing the firm, and utilise its strengths to deal with them, while understanding the firms weaknesses and reducing their effects.
One other response is to really understand what your clients value, and make sure your firm's processes can deliver it consistently with the minimum amount of waste and maximum efficiency. This is called "operationalising" your processes, and it's what Tesco and some of the other organisations that threaten the profession are very good at.
You have to take a leaf out of their book, while emphasising one aspect of your service they won't be able to compete on, the personal client relationship - when the client needs and wants to see a qualified solicitor. This can't easily be commoditised, and you'll need to show the value of it if you want to compete.
Remember, survival isn't compulsory, but extinction isn't inevitable.