In the Lawyers Weekly Managing Partner Survey 2013, which surveyed the managing partners of 20 firms across Australia, the three practice groups seen as being the most challenged in 2013 were banking, property and corporate.
Much of what is happening in the market is dependent on what’s happening in the general economy. The current sentiment is that firms are quiet in transactional areas, and late 2012 saw some make redundancies to address this downturn.
It seems, however, that this represents the bottom of the market and firms will hold on to what staff remain. Taking into consideration that firms have been running lean teams following the GFC, and the fact that there have been no mass hirings since the GFC started, most firms will now be looking for ways to utilise their lawyers while looking for signs of recovery.
One of the ways that firms in the transactional space are doing this is to offer their clients legal services that ‘add value’ at sometimes vastly reduced fee structures, even pro bono, in order to win the work in the short term and the client in the long term. Firms have been advising clients on other business concerns, such as corporate governance and in-house obligations, and are even playing matchmaker with mutual clients and investment banks.
If you are a lawyer in one of these groups that is quiet, our advice would be to look for ways to add value to the team and to your clients in the absence of billable work. Put your hand up for secondment work, be prepared to work in interstate offices, volunteer to run CLE seminars for clients and other lawyers, write e-newsletters and keep yourself in the mind’s eye of both partners and clients.
Of course, billable hours and budgets will still be important. That said, in a market where most lawyers are struggling to make budget, you will only need to start to worry if your billable hours slip behind the others in your team.
Again, this is the time to put your hand up for work that you may not otherwise. Should the global economy start to improve in line with economic predictions, you should see a corresponding improvement in work by the third or fourth quarter.