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UK legal business 'undergoing real changes'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 05/06/13

It is tempting to imagine that UK lawyers exist in a sleepy, unchanging world, where offices still smell gently of pipe smoke and men are still encouraged to wear hats at all times. However, the tide catches up with us all, and the reality is that Britain's legal services market is likely to undergo a massive change over the coming decade.

The Legal Innovation 2013 report by accountants Baker Tilly, looking at how the market will evolve in the years to 2020, suggested that a "process of natural selection" will see those firms that cannot secure investment either fold or merge in the future.

Some 11 per cent of commercial law practices admitted that they are actively looking for external investment, while 39 per cent acknowledged that this is likely to become a major possibility in the current economic climate, reports Legal Futures.

However, the bigger change could be the opening up of the legal market, with companies such as the Co-Op already providing some of the services traditionally associated with commercial lawyers.

Some 37 per cent of respondents to the Baker Tilly survey are considering the possibility of offering non-legal services in return, which raises the pleasant prospect of Magic Circle lawyers selling knock-off hairdryers out of a van or offering clients a quick shoe-polish while they wait for their litigation to finish.

George Bull, chair of Baker Tilly's professional practices group, pointed to shifts in the market climate and major regulatory shake-ups as the main drivers of change in the legal industry.

"In some quarters a degree of innovation has been unleashed which is unprecedented. It is also interesting that in many cases, law firms that previously held the view that reforms would have little impact on their business are coming around to the view that they will have to adjust their business mode," he added.