This time of year inevitably sees reflective posts on where we are and the year ahead.  It may just be me but in the world of legal services these very depressing.   The business of law blog, here, has published 41 predictions for the new year.  Great stuff and all very well thought through, but also rather dark.  In fact as I made my way through the contributions I was fearing the next prediction might be that a law firm will soon spontaneously combust.  My mood was not lightened by the ever brilliant Professor Stephen Mayson who has reminded us that a lot of law firms are not very good here.  He is right but it is after all the season of hope and goodwill.   I agree that the business of law is more competitive than it has ever been and it is tough, very tough.  But there are lots of reasons to be cheerful and optimistic and perhaps someone needs to say them.  So here goes.

  • The UK legal services market exceeds £30bn in revenue.  There are 168,718 regulated legal professionals in England and Wales.  The top 200 firms turnover more than £13bn.  There are 10,000 lawyers employed in house by the FTSE top 100.  The UK legal market continues to grow.
  • Not only is the England and Wales legal services market huge, it also has a highly innovative regulatory framework that permits external ownership of law firms and a wide variety of business models.  The only other country that has done this is Australia.
  • This combination of economic mass and innovative regulation is enabling new businesses to flourish (Riverview, Axiom etc) and existing businesses to evolve (Slater & Gordon, Irwin Mitchell, Allen & Overy).
  • The regulation of legal services in other countries will inevitably have to move to a model that is closer to the England and Wales model.  In the internet age it is simply not possible for the legal profession to control the legal market as it has in the past.  The longer that takes the more likely it is that the innovative firms in England and Wales will be able to dominate the world market because when each market opens up they will be much bigger than any domestic competition.  England and Wales has gone digital whilst the rest of the world is still analogue.
  • Developments in technology including artificial intelligence are important and will change the market.  However, their biggest benefit is likely to make law more accessible to more people and businesses thereby increasing the size of the legal market.

In the future there will be more lawyers than ever before, the revenue generated by law will be much greater than it is now.  Just as now there will be those who make a lot of money.  The difference may be that there will be fewer of them and they are likely to be either directors and shareholders of innovative technology companies or truly specialist consultants.  

This does not seem too bad to me.