Legal job losses have been all too familiar in 2009, but with the market expected to pick up next year, just what have law firms learnt from the process?
Australian law firms have faced a difficult 12 months as the fallout from the market crashes of 2008 truly started to impact on legal work loads. Still, lawyers in Australia have been spared the total chaos that seemingly ensued on global legal markets - especially across the US and UK. In these areas, large law firms made it on to their third, and sometimes fourth, rounds of redundancies as the year wore on.
But the market for legal work obviously resonates with the counter-cyclical nature of the economy, so if demand for legal services in 2010 does actually increase, what lessons can be taken away from 2009?
According to a global risk expert and IBM's Chief of Business Continuity and Resiliency Services, Richard Cocchiara, law firms should work to mitigate the risks associated with an oversupply of people by adopting his risk management structure of "business resilience".
He told Lawyers Weekly's sister publication, Risk magazine, this week that this strategy is essentially a broadening of business continuity risk management strategies that identify not just disaster threats to the operations and people of a business, but also the need for a business to be able to "elasticise" through upturns and downturns in work.
"They have to, as part of their resilience strategy, think about maybe setting aside capital in case there are downturns in the economy," he said.
"Things pick up and after a couple of years when things are good, we get complacent and we think that the good times are going to keep on rolling," said Cocchiara.
For law firms, as it has in the past, that means launching into a war for talent and bolstering numbers to meet increased demands in work. But, Cocchiara says, there are other options.
"Do you really want to hire 50 new lawyers?" asks Cocchiara. "Or maybe hire 20, and put 30 on as contractors."
Such questions will no doubt be explored in law firms across the globe over the next couple of years. But just how much attention employers will pay to the answer will arguably depend on just how quickly the economy recovers - and, potentially, how complacent lawyers get in believing that high levels of business confidence can continue.
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