The speed, scale and complexity of issues clients face combined with new competition means the legal industry has to respond in order to remain relevant to their clients and market demands. How are Irish law firms coping with this forced evolution?
Julian Yarr, managing partner at A&L Goodbody, believes law firms must continually adapt their knowledge and service to reflect global geopolitical or trade issues, cybercrime, increasing regulation, climate change or the impact of technology at every level of life.
“This will ensure that clients maximise their business strategy, reshape to respond to new competition, changing law and regulation or take pioneering steps to be the next global player. This means increased investment by law firms in global relationships, technology, a more diverse workforce and a real focus on continuous learning and development for their staff,” he says. “To be at the top of the market you have to evolve and stay a step ahead.”
Yarr adds that, at an operating level, clients want top-quality legal advice “quicker and cheaper”.
“Together with smart people and effective processes, this is where technology can really make a difference. Clients want really smart solutions to the challenges they face. Technology and systems can reduce risk and be more cost- and time-efficient, allowing lawyers to focus on the higher-value and complex issues that clients need addressing,” he says.
In addition, the talent profile is continuously changing. Yarr says this is evident at major law firms such as A&L Goodbody. “We have different types of lawyers and other business professionals working together who want to broaden their skills and capabilities. New lawyers have changing career needs and expectations, and want a more agile working environment,” he notes.
The volatile market means firms must have a “razor sharp focus” on identifying their client’s needs – Yarr says his firm has invested heavily in reshaping its service, technology and knowledge to meet changing demands as well as investing significantly in their people.
“Examples include our globally regarded legal project management team, which has developed new processes, skills and a tech platform that allows large complex mandates or datasets to be interrogated and processed. There’s also our unique ALG School of Business & Law learning and development programme.”
Karyn Harty, dispute resolution and litigation partner with McCann FitzGerald, agrees that law firms are having to adapt to market forces, as issues such as pricing and resourcing impact on their relationships with clients. She explains that, as a result, law firms are now working “more collaboratively” with clients than they would have done in the past.
“Clients want to do a lot more for themselves in-house, what we would call self-service – there is a big drive for that. Where they see us as adding value is on the complex and unusual and tricky pieces of work, which is, of course, where we are at our best,” she says.
“This has been a big change in the market in terms of what clients are looking for and in terms of how we can best add value for them That’s something, although it’s a disruptor to the market, we don’t necessarily view it as a negative.”
This has led to “some really exciting” projects with clients, she adds.
“For example, there is one global organisation that has a compliance issue, one that affects them in a number of different countries. We have built an online compliance solution for them which they are then able to roll out to ensure compliance in all of their different target jurisdictions. This is a bespoke product we have generated for them and in collaboration with them. That would have seemed really unusual three or four years ago but now it’s par for the course.”
Larger law firms are changing their workforce in order to provide complex solutions for clients, says David Halliwell, director of client solutions at Pinsent Masons.
“The market has until recently been moving towards unbundled legal services as new ‘alternative’ providers come in and take segments of legal services and matters away from traditional law firms. That has been driven by cost pressures, but also because some traditional firms have not been able to keep pace with the same skillsets and technologies required to be able to service that sort of work effectively, and so have ceded control to new competitors,” he explains.
The market is now shifting back towards “rebundling”, as firms such as Pinsent Masons bring additional skillsets, technologies and capabilities back in-house, and provide clients with a wider range of professional services, Halliwell says. These are packaged together to give clients the benefit of a single, broader relationship, rather than having to manage multiple suppliers and relationships – law firms are now becoming a “one-stop shop” for a wide range of complex needs.
“At Pinsent Masons, we are now starting to think about how we can provide greater value to clients by having those skillsets internally as part of our business. Why should the client pay for the co-ordination cost of bringing together third- party suppliers? Wouldn’t the client benefit from the knowledge and trust that comes from a long-term relationship with a law firm flowing into the wider team of advisers that need to be deployed?”
This diversification means Pinsent Masons deploys other professionals to sit alongside its lawyers, from pensions and tax consultants through to forensic accountants to support litigation and investigation. “More recently, they have led the way with legal technology, developing our own applications to sit alongside off-the- shelf tools,” says Halliwell.
The firm is now bringing in other skillsets to use on its legal matters, such as technology and ediscovery consultants, as well as professional project managers. It has also built in diversity and inclusion consultants Brook Graham, who advise as part of their wider human capital proposition.
The ultimate goal is to offer an increasingly wider range of professional skills to deliver more seamless solutions for clients, says Halliwell. “It’s why we describe ourselves as a professional services business with law at the core, providing clients with a wider range of solutions to meet their challenges than just lawyers.”