The future of the legal sector in Australia might be looking a little uncertain in this economic climate, but last week a panel of key law firm decision-makers agreed that it could also be the opportunity the profession needs to better position services for clients.
Hosted by LexisNexis (also publisher of Lawyers Weekly), the event asked representatives from top-tier, mid-tier and small law firms to express their concerns on the state of legal services delivery in Australia.
The round table did not dwell on the difficulties facing law firms as a result of the recession, but saw it as a blip on a rapidly changing legal industry.
It was also suggested that the current economy could be a catalyst for producing numerous levels of much-needed change across the legal services industry.
Allens Arthur Robinson chief executive partner Michael Rose said the current crisis was forcing lawyers to take a good look at their profession.
"Lawyers have been complacent in the way they've bidded for work," said Rose. "You've ended up with a situation where the real role of lawyers is as facilitators of transactions, as opposed to people who are there to protect the interests and provide a little advice."
Rose said that lawyers may now need to reposition themselves to reassert their value to clients.
Christopher Freeland, chief operating officer at Gilbert + Tobin, said that entrepreneurial and innovative partners - already in high demand - will prosper in a repositioned profession.
"Part of it can be trained and observed, but it also takes a particular style of person and it's that style of person, I think, who is going to thrive and who clients will go to in the future," he said.
Managing partner of Swaab Attorneys, Fred Swaab, believed it was in this "atypical" period of global recession that these innovative leaders should come forward. As with Rose, he believes that, to an extent, the profession has become complacent and moved away from its once traditional roles as gatekeepers of transactions.
"Years ago, the bank manager and the lawyer determined whether you did a deal or not," he said. "Now lawyers are just sort of picking up the pieces after the attempted to have put them together."
But becoming known for that innovative spirit will require work and initiative, a self-promotion effort that Dr Peter Ellender, chief executive officer at Carter Newell, believes many lawyers are uncomfortable with.
"They feel like they're blowing their own trumpet. They feel that they shouldn't have to show off; they should concentrate on doing quality work instead," said Ellender.
"In reality they need to be demonstrating that they are adding value at all times."
See the full story in tomorrow's edition of Lawyers Weekly
- Angela Priestley