In their recent Bellwether discussion paper, ‘A dangerous allegiance to the status quo?’, LexisNexis published the results of a major market research project looking at how Small and Independent Law firms are responding to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) reforms coming next April:
The startling truth we uncovered is that the majority of firms simply don’t know what changes are coming, with 57% of respondents unaware that the SRA was even proposing change. This is quite shocking given that the Legal Services Board has now signed off on these changes and they will come into force in April 2019. Equally shocking is that most firms are not planning to make any significant changes to their business, either to exploit the changes, or to protect their firms from the impact that these are likely to have.
The SRA’s stated intent is to open-up the market; to make access to legal services easier and to deconstruct the stranglehold that they see law firms having on the provision of regulated legal services. This objective is straightforward and clearly stated, so one would have thought that individual firms of solicitors would be all over what’s happening.
The simple truth is that most firms don’t know what’s going on, and when prompted to focus on upcoming changes, only 16% of those polled support them. The vast majority, 70%, believe that deregulating the market will lower standards and compromise the ability of law firms to compete with regulated solicitors who chose to operate in structures other than law firms.
While this reaction could be anticipated, why are law firms not preparing more aggressively to alter their practice, their approach to clients or the nature of their services ahead of the changes?
Solicitors’ fears are real, but their inactivity suggests that they’re continuing to cling to a set of views about the law that are out of kilter with client sentiment.
Our research suggests that law firms view the service they provide as inviolable. The notion that the client’s view is more important than their own is alien to many, as is the idea that a client could seek the view of any source other than another law firm. It’s therefore possible that the SRA reforms have been so widely ignored and dismissed because, for many in the regulated law firm environment, they simply don’t make sense.
There’s also further evidence that the legal community perhaps misses the point at times. There is a sentiment brewing that the job of being a solicitor isn’t what it used to be. Almost two thirds (64%) of our research sample believe that the law is becoming more of a job than a profession and 46% now, reluctantly, see themselves as business people more than lawyers.
It is interesting to note that only 5% of the solicitors polled felt that the changes coming in April are necessary. The same percentage that are endorsing the SRA’s view that deregulation will make competition fairer, improve careers and give a new generation of solicitors and clients more options.
Law Firms need to start planning now for how they are going to provide their service in a market where the status quo has been removed. Here at LexisNexis we have developed products which help firms employ systems and resources to make their businesses competitive. Investing time and resource in getting these procedures right now will save a great deal of time and hassle down the line and avoid potentially damaging breaches or non-compliance.
To access the report please visit www.lexisnexis.co.uk/statusquo