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Australasian firms failing to address evolving legal landscape

Despite innovation becoming a buzzword within the legal profession, new research has revealed that Australasian law firms are proving slow to adapt to the changing legal landscape.

In July, the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and InfoTrack surveyed 163 firms across Australia and New Zealand.

Preliminary findings of the research – contained in a report, ‘Adapting to the Changing Legal Landscape’ – revealed that 74 per cent of survey respondents believed the legal industry is reacting only when necessary, too slowly or failing to respond effectively to the external and internal factors that are transforming the sector.

Furthermore, 46 per cent of respondents said Australian and New Zealand law firms do not have an effective firm-level blueprint with which to adapt to the changing legal landscape.

Commenting on the preliminary findings – which are set to be launched at the 2016 ALPMA Summit – ALPMA president Andrew Barnes warned legal heads not to be complacent about change.

“The one thing we can be sure of is that the change we have seen in the Australasian legal industry over the past five years will not abate,” he said.

“Change can test your mettle. If your firm is not already adapting to change or you are not thinking about how to compete in what is essentially a new playing field, your risk compounds over time.”

InfoTrack chief executive John Ahern shared this sentiment, saying firms need to shift their focus to working out how the evolving legal landscape can complement their services, instead of resisting change.

“We know for a fact that the legal fraternity is resistant to change, but change it must,” he said.

“As my colleague and leading intellectual property lawyer Philip Argy says, technology is putting the fun back into law. And he is right: technology has replaced much of the humdrum of legal work, freeing up lawyers to do what they do best: giving advice that adds real value.

“Nor can the profession continue to ignore the fact that technology is making the delivery of legal advice significantly more efficient, effective and profitable,” he said.

The report also revealed that managing people continues to present the biggest challenge for law firms to address, with only 5 per cent of respondents stating they have no people-related issues.

Succession planning was the most common people-related issue for firms – nominated by 42 per cent of respondents – with this particularly affecting small to medium-sized firms.

“Succession planning has long been lurking on the horizon as a critical issue for law firms as baby boomers look to extract equity from their long-established practices,” Mr Barnes said.

“The changing landscape puts this firmly front of mind for many as the barriers to opening new firms disappear.”

Despite this, the research found just 14 percent of respondents have completed initiatives to address succession planning.

Other people-related challenges include performance management, recruitment and difficulties in retaining staff and supporting people with stress and mental health issues.

Supporting diversity and retaining women in the profession was seen as a challenge by only 4 per cent and 2 per cent of firms, respectively.

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