The recent high-profile changes within the profession, including, for instance, the disappearance of Leslie Wolfson & Co. in 2018 to another English predator, highlights the inexorable increase in the pressures on the traditional business model of the typical High Street solicitor.
Whether under partnership, LLP or incorporation, the ingredients that make up a successful business – such as the strategies for HR, finance and management – coupled with the structure for ownership, fiscal control and realistic and identified objectives for better capitalisation and profitability to produce sustainable and saleable businesses which will not only survive but thrive in an increasingly competitive market, is no longer fit for purpose.
Sir Tom Hunter, the icon of Scottish business, told a gathering of business leaders recently “today the pace of change is faster than it has ever been… yet slower than it will ever be…”. The legal profession is not immune and the likelihood is that with the advent of artificial intelligence, robotics and increasing regulation, the need for better risk management, improved service delivery, (to say nothing of the predators from England, often with very deep pockets and wishing to devour smaller animals), the time for change is now.
Solicitors perhaps even more so than most individuals are slow to change. The comfort zone is a nice place to occupy, but it no longer offers the security and serenity of earlier years. Now is time to get into the driving seat and navigate the path to success.
The composition of the profession today is worrisome. There are approximately 11,500 solicitors in Scotland of which about 8,000, in round numbers, are in private practice. Those 8,000 are deployed across approximately 1,150 practice units.
The majority of the profession in Scotland are spending what is known as the ‘grey pound’. There is a decreasing appetite for ownership among the younger generations coming through.
Typically, a High Street practitioner is in his mid-fifties, and the swathe of employed lawyers in the big six are by contrast in mid-thirties.
Recent data shows that there were last year approximately 550 opportunities for traineeships across Scotland, including the public sector, the Scottish Government and the prosecution service. Curiously, our law schools apparently have approximately 1,800 graduates studying diploma.
Somewhere soon that circle is not going to square.
The need for change is obvious, yet there is a curious reluctance to embrace change.
History shows that it is essential to understand the need for change, appreciate the benefits of change and then for engagement in change.
The Leslie Wolfson story reflects a sad indictment of yet another household Scottish name passing into foreign ownership with the disappearance not only of the name but the independence and a further dent in the hitherto renowned reputation of the Scottish legal profession.
The High Street, contrary to the big corporate and commercial firms, will continue to thrive and grow. That future is bright but it must be earned, and it is time for change. The traditional business model of partners, directors or members sitting around a board table discussing agendas which are far too long, often irrelevant and end in countless arguments, will no longer do.
Solicitors throughout Scotland in the High Street are required to smarten up and recognise that, although they provide professional services, they do so in an acutely competitive business environment borrowing from Sir Tom Hunter will become even more so. So, all of this at a time when there is a clamber almost like lemmings over the cliff for exit routes, retiral without any adequate succession planning simply will not do.
For guidance, advice and help on all matters of practice management consult Graeme at:
McKinstry Practice Management, 272 Bath Street, Glasgow G2 4JR, call 0141 354 1360 or email firstname.lastname@example.org