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Skills shortage a ‘hand-brake on growth’ in law

While this managing partner predicted that the Australian market would be less impacted by a global economic downturn, there are a number of challenges still impacting growth in the profession, she says.

user iconLauren Croft 07 February 2023 Big Law
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In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, DLA Australia managing partner Amber Matthews revealed the firm’s priorities for 2023 and what she’s focused on moving forward.

“[This year] we will be focused on raising our brand profile as a global law firm that is well placed for taking Australian companies global and to assist our global clients in growing their footprint in Australia. We do more M&A deals than any other law firm in the world for the 12th year running, and we want to leverage that experience to assist our clients in spotting the key opportunities and trends.

“We have deep networks in key hubs, whether that’s Silicon Valley, Singapore or London, but the strength of our platform and expertise is not widely known. We see a lot of upside in technology, energy and natural resources, and infrastructure. We are also focused on working more closely with the consultants in our business advisory practice to service our clients more deeply across the M&A ecosystem and to help clients better navigate their ESG journey,” she said.


“We have the ability to take Australian companies global, so we’re focused on leveraging this opportunity for our clients, and supporting our global clients to further grow in Australia. We’ll continue our sector-first approach with an emphasis on the potential in technology, infrastructure and energy and natural resources. We’re also working towards securing the best talent, as we expect the skills shortage to continue into this year.”

DLA Piper had a “strong year” in 2022, according to Ms Matthews, who said that the high level of capital markets and merger and acquisition activity, as well as growth in regulatory investigations, will continue into 2023.

“2022 [was] a transition year from a pre- to post-pandemic mindset regarding working practices. We have been focused on getting into a good rhythm of working flexibly and in the office, as well as seeing clients and international colleagues in person more frequently. As business stabilised throughout 2022, it enabled strategic planning for the next three years. Rather than simply managing the present, we’re fully focused on the future,” she said.

“All the feedback we’ve received from clients and the industry is about moving forward, but we’re left with a few challenges, such as securing the right talent and managing the global economic uncertainty. We expect skills shortages will continue into the new year. Wider economic conditions worldwide and domestically suggest we are in for challenging times with inflation and potential recession, so our focus is on staying close with our clients and helping them protect and grow their businesses in 2023.”

However, while a global economic downturn is potentially on the horizon, Ms Matthews predicted that Australia would fare better than other markets.

“The economic environment globally is changing, but we’re cautiously optimistic that Australia will weather the storm much better than other regions. We are still seeing good transactional deal flow, and the regulatory environment is very active. There is always demand for quality legal services, so we’re focused on providing our clients [with] the best possible advice, regardless of conditions,” she said.

“[But] the skills shortage is a hand-brake on growth in the legal services sector. Australia is well placed to grow the sector due to our mature business environment, stable economy and common law tradition, but without access to the right talent, it becomes a missed opportunity for the country. Streamlined access to foreign labour, for both lawyers and non-lawyers, is where the industry needs to come together.”

And as we move into the post-pandemic new normal, Ms Matthews said that post-pandemic, DLA Piper is more “adaptable, both culturally and technologically, to respond to future disruptions”.

“The legacy of the pandemic is greater resilience and enhanced business continuity, which also gives us confidence that we will adapt well to future challenges too. It has also brought into stark focus how important it is to support and develop our people, and that many of our people want to work in different ways. We will continue to be focused on ensuring we create interesting and sustainable careers in the law for all our people, whatever stage of their careers. Flexibility is important, but culture and learning opportunities are also critical to career satisfaction,” she added.

“Lawyers are in a unique and privileged position by working alongside clients at many different stages of their business journey, whether that’s growing through acquisition, protecting the business from litigation or regulatory investigation, and a wide range of other areas in between. During the pandemic, we have shown how effective lawyers can be in helping clients navigate risks and opportunities that arise from uncertainty, and we need to stay close with our clients to maintain that unique and privileged position into the future.”

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