Different times demand different inputs, says Murray McCall
IT IS a very interesting time to be a solicitor in Scotland. We are coming out of a period of unprecedented turmoil in the legal services market and facing a truly historical vote on Scotland’s future.
This combination of events brings enormous challenges and opportunities for all businesses across our country, including law firms.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, Anderson Strathern is well placed to provide legal input on key strategic and policy decisions once the democratic choice has been made. Whatever the outcome, large-scale infrastructure development will remain a necessary pillar of the Scottish economy and we are already seeing a steady flow of demand for legal expertise in projects, property, renewables and corporate work.
Anderson Strathern has weathered the economic storm of the last few years due to our full service offering. Others who specialised in too narrow a field or had too many eggs in the corporate basket have been less fortunate. If you had told me five years ago that I would be managing Anderson Strathern without the names of McGrigors, Dundas & Wilson and Biggart Baillie, I would have been incredulous. Such has been the legal earthquake in the last few years.
With an improving economy, one of the major issues facing many law firms is attracting and retaining talented individuals. One of my key priorities is to ensure that everyone who contributes to the growth and development of our firm not only enjoys taking part in that effort but is properly rewarded for doing so.
Enjoyment of the working environment is a key part of that and, for many, is just as important as financial gain. Legal skills remain key but we have spent time ensuring that our staff are equally enthused by winning new business and the sheer professional buzz you can get from delivering a great project for a client, closing a deal or winning a case. Knowing the client inside out, understanding their needs and bringing them opportunities are all critical parts of a lawyer’s core skills in the 21st century.
It’s amazing to look back at the advances made in law since I qualified back in 1996. Mobile phones looked like bricks and everyone (including most trainees) had a secretary. Modern law firms are now bursting at the seams with new technology. Lawyers are becoming less lawyer-like and are now more geared towards being business facilitators. Large UK firms have a growing presence in Scotland and bring a scale of support services designed to deliver even more efficient and innovative legal services. The challenge for Scottish law firms is to use what they have and develop their own people, forge ever-closer relationships and deliver even better benefits to clients without necessarily having the deep pockets of their UK wide competitors.
All firms need to seek growth in the “new normal” market for legal services and this search will bring both challenges and opportunities. For a long time, lawyers had been uniquely placed as the only legitimate providers with access to legal knowledge and skills to deliver legal services to clients. That world has changed and, like all other progressive law firms, we are looking at what we can do to reap the benefits of commoditisation, out-sourcing, new technology and novel working arrangements.
All law firms, be they based in Scotland or elsewhere, face a growing “more for less challenge” when clients have more legal issues to handle, but fewer in-house resources and less budget to spend on external advisers. To meet this challenge, we need to continue to be innovative without losing sight of the quality of service. This includes creating alternatives to the traditional fee charging models, providing demand discounts and seeking out ways to give clients excellent value for money. When law firms are no longer the only providers in the legal market, clients will have a diverse set of options to choose when seeking legal advice.
Those firms that base their strategy on meeting the needs of their clients, improving the quality of their relationships and engaging and developing their staff are the ones that will succeed, whatever the outcome of the referendum.
• Murray McCall is the new managing partner of Anderson Strathern www.andersonstrathern.co.uk