Legal Services 2015: Firms need focus and flexibility to thrive

LAW firms need to adapt to an ever- changing and more competitive business environment  by setting clear goals, focusing on delivering excellence for clients and importantly running their firm with clear financial disciplines.

That is according to experts from Duff & Phelps and Jepson Holt who partnered in the Legal Services 2015 seminar at Lancashire County Cricket Club last week.

Keynote speaker was David Pester, managing partner from national law firm TLT Solicitors, which has grown fee income from £10m to £65m since 2000 and staff numbers from 180 to 960 in the same time frame.

His message to the audience of more than 100 law firm leaders was to “know what you want to be famous for”, and having a relentless focus on client service.

He said TLT was not “obsessive about growth” but was keen to exploit opportunities in its key sectors which include energy & renewables, leisure, housing, leisure, retail and consumer goods,

There was agreement that the market will continue to see disruption from new entrants offering new delivery models, including the Big Four accountancy firms, who are targeting opportunities in the legal sector.

Steve Billot, restructuring partner at Duff & Phelps, said the threat from the accountants – not just the biggest firms, should not be ignored, while Phil Jepson, founder of legal consultancy Totuus and recruitment firm Jepson Holt, agreed and said there are opportunities for the most agile and the focused firms.

Mr Billot said the economic recovery would polarise the strong firms from those that have just been “pottering  along” for the last five years.[VIDEO: 781]

“As we move into recovery and better opportunities, that’s going to differentialte between the good and the poor firms, and that is going to be the biggest challenge that average firms are going to face.

“There is also concern over skills, because as the economy has struggled there has been a lack of training and I see gaps in the skills among the lawyers – those with two or three years’ experience – who are in the engine room doing the work.”

He believes the major accountants – this week EY was the third of the Big Four to reveal its plans to develop a legal services offering – will not be challenging the large City of London firms, but the next tier below.

“I think they see there is an opportunity to go to the soft underbelly of the legal market, not the Magic Circle, but firms ranked 20 to 100 which are quality firms and which will have a couple of very large complex businesses as clients, who could benefit from a bit of advice from a multi-national, multi jurisdictional firms.”

Phil Jepson said the market is “strong” and alive with opportunities for agile and well-managed firms.

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“It’s a great market, but it’s one that is not as easy to business in as it was. The winners are going to be those who can get their heads around the fact that the world has changed and understand they have to operate differently and offer new things to their clients.

“The legal market is worth £30bn so of course there is going to be more disruption from more entrants to it. These will be businesses who will look at the market and see there are some players who are not that savvy or commercially aware.”

Among the attendees were Ed Fletcher, chief executive of Southport-based Fletchers, a specialist practice, and former banker Oliver Burton, who now runs Warrington practice FDR Law.

They give their reaction to the event here:

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