Is the High Street Solicitor an Endangered Species?

The last few years have heralded unprecedented changes in the composition of the Scottish Legal profession. Setting aside (for the moment) the plethora of other providers – whether claims handlers, Will writers, insurers, institutions online etc. – the core profession is within itself undergoing a dynamic and hitherto unseen metamorphosis.

The so-called premier league superstars who for years patronised, condescended and, in some cases, demeaned to the point of ridicule the journeyman in the High Street who actually make up the backbone of the profession throughout the country, have either gone under or have been rescued by English businesses with very deep pockets operating under variety of ABS or… they teeter on the brink.

Totemic (or iconic) names like Maclay Murray & Spens, Tods Murray, McClure Naismith, Biggart Baillie, McGrigors, Bird Semple and many many more… remember them? Hushed now are the superior tones from those thick piled, oak panelled boardrooms. The recent eye-catching takeover of Leslie Wolfson, a quality and revered Glasgow practice founded in 1955 is the latest to be absorbed by an English predator, TLT, which has its base, finance and business structure in Bristol.

No doubt whilst for the constituents of this latest Scottish salvage, this development is good news, it is however also a harbinger – indeed a thick hovering cloud which should be a siren warning to everyone plying their trade in the traditional High Street marketplace. To borrow from a paradigm, “if it sounds like a merger, it looks like a merger, and is spun like a merger”, it is, in fact, a bigger player to the rescue and it’s a takeover. Plain and simple. Do not be fooled by the impressive public relations spinning exercise.

Many might revel at the comeuppance of the hitherto big fish whose very existence has gone, but none of us can be complacent nor avoid the challenge of change.

Scotland’s 1,100 odd business units and 11,000 or so lawyers, and perhaps more especially the 1,800 or so looking for diplomas, all need to face up to the need to change and change quickly.

Commoditisation, robotics, AI, the inevitable further increases in regulation and competition from outside providers; all present unprecedented threats to the traditional law business model with its historic client connections and more or less guaranteed income streams. All of the above and more are circling our wagons, and many will follow the well-trodden path which Leslie Wolfson has chosen. For the professional and business-like solicitor in the High Street, however, clients and the work will remain, or indeed it will grow for the leanest and fittest who survive to provide quality services to an expanding market.

We will continue to be the personal and trusted adviser but… the writing is large on the wall for a business model based on legislation from 1890 and often managed, developed and marketed (if at all) in a Dickensian way from premises with an infrastructure which is no longer fit for purpose. This is even true of those operating under limited liability or incorporated status.

So, the clarion call to all those who make up the core of our profession and whose ambition is to thrive not merely survive in a challenging economy, this latest development is a wakeup call. All need to prepare for change, to implement change or the very changes surrounding will consume you just as it has swallowed the bigger fish.

For advice and guidance on improving your business model for sustainability for thriving rather than surviving contact Graeme at:

McKinstry Practice Management, 272 Bath Street, Glasgow G2 4JR, call 0141 354 1360 or email graeme@mckinstrypm.co.uk

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Credentials & Experience

Winner of the Managing Partner of the Year at the Law Awards of Scotland, with over 40 years experience in the profession and in business, Graeme McKinstry has built, managed and developed his practice with significant success.

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