Saturday, February 27, 2010

UKCLE's Ideas on the Future of Legal Education

My friend, Julian Webb, is who is director of UKCLE and professor of legal education, has put together an interesting short film about the influences on the future of legal education in the UK. I think it also informs discussion about legal education elsewhere.

I recommend reading his blog at hEaD space

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Legal Services Board Has Spoken

The Legal Services Board has announced that the first  Alternative Business Structures will be able to apply for licences in mid-October 2011. For English lawyers this will be the dawning of a new age. For the Master of the Rolls (the head of our civil appeals court) this is the slippery slope to the fusion of barristers and solicitors. Maybe, or maybe the differences will be less defined. Whichever way it goes specialization will take care of what skills are needed.

The LSB quotes some interesting statistics from the Office of National Statistics on the legal profession.
The legal profession currently consists of some 16,455 barristers, 112,246 solicitors and 12,200 individuals authorised to operate in other aspects of the legal profession such as conveyancing. The sector has been valued at £25.97 billion per annum. In total the legal sector employed 323,000 individuals in 2008. [ONS]
With this kind of money and the numbers of people involved in legal services, there is plenty of incentive for some creative thinking in this future market. Now, question: will it be a matter of who gets there first or will the fast second ultimately win?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Flowers are Blooming...Already

(Thanks to RalphMag)

It was only a few days ago that I was speculating how local governments and their legal departments would respond to the opportunities raised by the Legal Services Act 2007 and Alternative Business Structures (ABS).

We don't have to wait that long. In today's The Lawyer it was reported that Kent County Council's legal department (mentioned in the previous post) has formed a quasi-joint venture with a regional law firm, Geldards, to "create a single brand for public sector work capable of taking over local authority legal departments." The new "structure" will be called 'Law:Public'. It is clear that Law:Public aims to take over as much work as possible from the legal departments of local authorities. Local authorities could then close down or hive off their legal departments. To what extent the loss of local specialist knowledge will matter is an open question.

Since the new rules on ABS haven't been formulated yet, there are questions over this operation but they are unlikely to be challenged. To ensure a level of compliance with Law Society rules the two elements will offer different rates. KCC will charge at £90 an hour and Geldards will drop a £100 off its normal hourly rate to £150.

The success of ventures like these will depend on how local authorities begin to re-arrange their legal spend in the light of the financial crisis that is now hitting the public sector. Birmingham City Council has opened its own legal panel to other local authorities that want to access its law firms rather than recruit their own panels. For example, Hackney council in London only has barristers on its panel so the open Birmingham panel gives Hackney access to solicitors. The Lawyer also mentions that "dozens of authorities in the North West, North East and South of England are teaming up on a regional basis to access advice more cheaply through joint panels."

Coda: on the same front page of The Lawyer is an item describing how Outer Temple chambers (barristers) have set up a company to target international work. The OT barristers will be its shareholders. Once the new ABS rules are implemented then this company could start doing domestic work as well as international and generate work for non-OT barristers who could also become shareholders. So, we shall be seeing barristers listed on the Stock Exchange.

We've come a long way since a former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham (bless him), enunciated, "A solicitor is a man of business; a barrister is an artist and a scholar."


Today I Sat in a Meeting on Risk Management in the Law School...

(Thanks to New Yorker)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Rise of Boutiques?

(Thanks to Coolhunting)

Flexibility and mobility are two necessary attributes to dealing with markets in flux. As we have seen with the struggles of the behemoth law firms over the last year or so, restructuring is painful, slow and very unwelcome.

Small firms, however, may have the advantage because they can reconfigure themselves with relatively little effort. Dan Harris of China Law Blog directed my attention to an article in the Los Angeles Times "The Big Opportunities in the Legal Profession Are at Small Firms".

Lawyers have been able to reinvent themselves in imaginative ways. Divorce lawyers transform into bankruptcy lawyers. It seems that younger lawyers are finding small firms attractive after Big Law.

Niche areas of law are ripe for development and boutiques--whether traditional law firms or alternative business structures--are ideal candidates for delivering services to clients quickly and personally and much cheaper than the large law firms. Even the ABA has begun offering advice tailored to small practices.

As I said in the post below, "Let a thousand flowers bloom!"


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom

 (Thanks to Anselm Kiefer "Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom" , 2000)

"Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land." So said Chairman Mao in 1957, on which the misquotation above is based.

I'm not sure Mao would be happy with his phrase being used in conjunction with new forms of legal practice about to emerge from the chrysalis of the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA). (Apologies for mangling metaphors...) In the last two days I have been listening to the Legal Services Board talk about what is to happen. This is in part because they have published a new business plan, which I urge you to read.

The first talk at Bevan Brittan was aimed at local government lawyers and how they could exploit the potential of the LSA. Two factors are at play here: a desire by councils to get value from their legal departments and a bigger desire to cut costs in the financial crisis. At present in house lawyers are restricted in who they can do work for--who's the client? But there are gaps in the rules and Kent County Council has been exploiting them in entrepreneurial ways by mixing public and private clients and creating extra revenue, and acting as consultants to other councils which want to follow them.

However, once Alternative Business Structures enter the market in 2011, then local government departments will be free to organize themselves how they like. One possibility would be for the local councils in a county to hive off their legal departments and set them up in a wholly-owned company that would do work for the county local authorities and could market its services to other councils also. They could even form joint ventures with law firms and legal process outsourcing companies. But, of course, they wouldn't necessarily be restricted to working for councils: they could take on the private legal sector and compete directly with them.

They would also be able to work with not for profits to provide legal services that private firms would tend to avoid.

As Chris Kenny, the CEO of the Legal Services Board, put it, the regulatory framework is to encourage innovation and widen access to the legal services market. So it will be interesting to see how sectors other than the private one begin to deploy themselves in the new legal market.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Tesco Law in a Wig and Gown

Are solicitors endangered? James Dunning has an insightful post on this at his blog, An Inside Take from the Outside.

He advances his argument on the basis of the changes made in the regulation of barristers. Dunning says:
Last week though, in my humble opinion, the earth moved as the Bar Standards Board voted to allow barristers
  • to work in partnership with other barristers
  • to work in partnership with lawyers
  • to invest in law firms
  • to practice in more than one capacity
  • to investigate and collect evidence, take witness statements in civil and criminal case, advise suspects at the police station and conduct correspondence
The Law Society is busy considering the relative merits and demerits of referral fees.  Meanwhile the Bar Council has just voted to allow barristers to steal a sizeable proportion of law firms’ daily sustenance.
I agree with Dunning the earth is moving and solicitors should be checking their earthquake insurance.