With a new year upon us, legal professionals and law firms need to be aware of the big opportunities and challenges ahead, writes Emma Ryan.
Before the stroke of midnight on 31 December you may find yourself thinking about your New Year’s resolutions.
Many people wish to quit their unhealthy lifestyles and get fit, while others aspire to read more books or take more holidays.
As good as these ideas sound at the time, come February people often find that they’ve already broken most of their New Year’s resolutions and then give up on them altogether – until next year.
As a legal professional, your work goals might reflect a large portion of your clients’ and firm’s revenue. This is why it’s important to have a good understanding of where the opportunities and challenges lie, so you can set yourself up for success in 2017.
According to Allens partner Emma Warren, the future of law offers an opportunity for legal professionals to unpack the innovation craze to offer bespoke client solutions.
She says while innovation has been a distinctive buzzword in the year past, it’s important for firms to remember that the aim of innovation is to benefit both clients and upgrade business process, going forward.
“Innovation is very much a word that’s bandied around at the moment but for us, innovation is about talking to our clients and creating bespoke solutions in the way we deliver services to them,” Ms Warren says.
“I think the days of being a reactive problem-solver for the direct problem that comes through the door are over for lawyers.”
According to Ms Warren, Allens has tailored its services from a number of entry points, from the types of products on offer to pricing and staffing options, as well as the opportunity to collaborate in a more client-involved, solution-finding process.
“Clients are calling out for lawyers to be collaborative problem-solvers. They want lawyers to work together with them to come up with solutions that reflect their challenges as a business, and not just address a legal issue in isolation,” Ms Warren says.
While clients are under pressure to deal with changes that are occurring at a faster pace than ever, Ms Warren observes that Australia’s legal market is responding actively.
At Allens, a strategic emphasis has been placed on evoking the “voice” of the client to inform the future direction of the firm, she notes.
According to GlobalX Legal Solutions CEO Peter Maloney, there are three obstacles legal professionals need to be wary of.
“The overwhelming, number one challenge is that law firms are being challenged to deliver more for less,” Mr Maloney says. “What does more for less
mean for law firms? It means more service, more connectivity and more transparency. Firms that can’t think about [more] service, connectivity and transparency for the customer may struggle to deliver services.”
The second challenge facing the legal profession is disruptive pricing, says Mr Maloney.
“The overwhelming feedback [from clients] is ‘I don’t want to pay for billable hours any more’. That model, whilst not dead and highly appropriate in some areas, is not a preferred model, with fixed and capped fees being favoured more,” he says.
Mr Maloney says the third challenge facing the legal profession is new forms of competition.
“Our survey showed 11 per cent of Australian firms are starting to lose revenue to NewLaw firms,” he says.
“Seventy per cent of respondents view NewLaw as a permanent form of competition.”
Mr Maloney notes that clients no longer choose law firms based solely on brand, reputation and referrals, adding to the likelihood of NewLaw firms being chosen over more traditional ones.
For those looking for a sea change in 2017, the aviation practice area looks to be ramping up.
Stacks Law Firm aviation lawyer John Glynn says the regulation debate surrounding the aviation space, particularly in regard to the use of drones, is creating more work for legal professionals.
“It’s the old saying: ‘If you can’t ban it, you regulate it’, so there’s a lot more rules ahead. There’s a tremendous amount of regulation in aviation and a lot of pilots say to me, ‘We need a lawyer in the right-hand seat’,” he says.
“The reason is because it’s so regulated they, particularly Qantas, have a number of lawyers. They spend their time trying to keep the areas of the regulations under control and there’s more and more coming out every day. So there’s a lot of potential for opportunities there.”
However, Mr Glynn notes that lawyers looking to operate in this space need to do their research first.
“Everything in aviation consists of acronyms and it’s a matter of understanding what pilots and engineers are talking about, otherwise you’ll sit there and think, ‘What the hell are they saying?’. They talk in shorthand and it’s important to understand their language so that you can talk to them,” he says.
“Aviation law is not really a unique area on its own. It involves all types of general law but you’ve just got to apply it to aviation-specific requirements.
"Aviation covers everything from contracts to criminal and regulatory to insurance claims and disputes between people.”