2009 IN REVIEW Across the board: Andrew Willder, Lander & Rogers
The year has thrown up some unique challenges and opportunities for law firms and lawyers, as will the year to come. Lawyers Weekly speaks with industry leaders across the legal spectrum about…
The year has thrown up some unique challenges and opportunities for law firms and lawyers, as will the year to come. Lawyers Weekly speaks with industry leaders across the legal spectrum about how the events of 2009 have affected firms and what's in store for 2010. We get the mid-tier view from Andrew Willder, chief executive partner of Lander & Rogers.
OFFICES: SYDNEY AND MELBOURNE
What has been the key issue affecting mid-tier firms in 2009?
This year, the single biggest issue affecting mid-tier firms was the all encompassing GFC - how firms prepared for it, rode it out and, in many cases, benefitted unexpectedly from it.
The size of mid-tier firms gives them the flexibility to react swiftly to changes in the economic cycle and seize opportunities as they arise. This was certainly tested during 2009: contrary to many expectations, the GFC saw some mid tiers - particularly those with diversified practices - experience healthy growth,as more and more clients sent their work our way.
Areas as diverse as insurance, litigation, insolvency and even some areas of property and corporate work experienced an uplift that caught many of us by surprise and boosted already steady workflows.
The GFC also had an effect on the employment market for lawyers. Many mid-tiers would have seen retention rates rise, as their staff rode out the economic uncertainty by staying put with their current employer. Some firms were forced to retrench staff; others (like ourselves) found it challenging to find quality people of the right fit and calibre for the rapidly growing practice areas mentioned.
What do you think will be a key challenge/opportunity for mid-tier firms in 2010?
There are really two, both interconnected. The first will be for mid-tiers to continue building their profiles and winning work opportunities that would have formerly gone to the top tier firms.
Many commercial clients now know that mid-tier firms can produce the same quality of work as the larger firms, while still retaining the flexibility to deliver superior service and competitive pricing. We noticed this trend in 2009 and we are confident it will continue into 2010.
What it means for mid-tiers is that they will need to continue being nimble and innovative around fee arrangements and client servicing, to retain clients and attract higher volumes of their more complex work. Competition for complex work will only increase, and mid-tier firms must find a means of strongly differentiating themselves and their brands from each other, as well as the larger firms.
The second will be to continue to attract and retain good people, especially given the Fair Work Act 2009's flexible work provisions, which come into force early next year. This will test all firms, but mid-tiers in particular will need to have the right cultures, systems and commitment to "making it work" for employees.
ACROSS THE BOARD: See how our panel of experts viewed 2009:
>> Top-tier view: Robert Milliner, Mallesons Stephen Jaques
>> Boutique view: John Kain, Kain Corporate + Commercial
>> In-house view: Peter Turner, Australian Corporate Lawyers Association