For the buyer of legal services, the choice is greater than ever, says KEITH ANDERSON
‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers’, wrote William Shakespeare (King Henry VI, Part II). How many have thought that would be a good idea? And why is it that lawyers are the butt of so many jokes?
I suspect that much of it is self-inflicted and is down to the impression that the law is made by lawyers for lawyers and that the advice given by lawyers to their clients is delivered in the way that best suits the lawyers themselves. As life generally and business specifically becomes more complex, the law and lawyers are unavoidable. So how can the legal profession better serve its clients?
For commercial clients, trying to understand their business and providing solutions is a start. Too often, advice is delivered in a way that the lawyer thinks is best, and it never occurs to ask the client what they want. The best lawyers listen to the client and react to the client’s needs. They solve problems and their contribution enhances overall business performance.
And that is best achieved from senior legal advisers with commercial expertise. It might suit a law firm to push down work to a more junior level (now much more likely in view of the current salary pressures from junior lawyers) but is that what works best for the client?
The emergence of innovative legal services businesses in the last decade or so has changed the landscape for the client and lawyers themselves. There are now alternatives to the traditional law firm for both client and lawyer. For the buyer of legal services, the choice is greater than ever and there is much attention at present, at least in the legal press, to the so-called platform businesses which exist to allow self-employed lawyers to practice on their own account, sharing revenue with that platform. The attractions of this model for the client and lawyer (typically called a consultant lawyer) are many.
From the client’s perspective, there is access to more experienced lawyers who are specialists in their field and pricing is likely to be more competitive. It is with the specific consultant lawyer that the client will deal, and not an inexperienced lawyer to which the work is passed down because there is no-one to pass that work to!
Before remote working became essential at the outset of the Covid-19 lockdown, dealing with a legal adviser remotely might have been daunting for many businesses but that is now rarely a consideration because it has become commonplace and remains so, now that hybrid working models are so common.
For the consultant lawyer, there is greater flexibility and the opportunity to be unshackled from the constraints of the traditional law firm model. The fee sharing arrangement is also likely to result in greater personal rewards and, for those seeking a better work-life balance, it is an ideal solution. Clearly, it works best for the experienced lawyer, with an established client following, and that experience allows it to work best for the client too.
For the client or lawyer for which this seems a step too far, there is a solution which combines the best features of the traditional law firm and platform models. While traditional law firms will find it difficult to embrace this consultant lawyer model and platform businesses will struggle to offer continuity of service, and for the client there is a loss of corporate knowledge when a consultant retires, there is space for (and we think an imperative need for) a hybrid offering which sits between these extremes and offers the best of both worlds.
This hybrid model ensures the client has access to senior legal advice and on the same terms as those offered by the platform business, but with the added advantage of continuity of service when a consultant retires and access to other service lines if needed.
And for the consultant lawyers there are all the advantages of the platform business, but with the added comfort of having colleagues at hand to support them if required. To have someone to bounce an idea off is important to many and that reassurance of being part of a team cannot be underestimated.
So, might this be the solution which is best for the client and also best for the lawyer? Now that is something worth aiming for.
Keith Anderson is the CEO of Edinburgh-based legal services business, Vialex