If establishing a legal practice today, it may be sensible to acquire a warehouse near a motorway and develop a discount operation delivering services traditionally associated with high street firms.
This might sound like an odd strategy but with the introduction of the Legal Services Act, which received royal assent in October 2007, the sector is set to undergo a metamorphosis.
The Act, hailed as the lawyers’ equivalent to the City’s ‘Big Bang’ deregulation in 1986, enables law firms to secure private or public investment and permits non-lawyers to compete in the provision of legal services, with or without the support of legal professionals.
Thereafter, the introduction of alternative business structures (ABSs), expected by 2012, will allow solicitors to team up with non-lawyers, for instance the marriage of solicitors and accountants.
In terms of multi-disciplinary partnerships, images of accountants circling the corporate advisers in law firms, hoping to join forces and provide a full service to corporate clients, spring to mind.
In private client work, it seems likely solicitors will be the ones looking to acquire additional services which complement tax and trust advice, such as financial planning for wealth management.
The niche firms will still have a place, but for high street firms, with traditionally provided services including wills and probate, domestic conveyancing, claimant personal injury, matrimonial and employment, the introduction of the Act and the spectre of ‘Tesco Law’ is likely to have a hefty impact.
High street practices are likely to suffer the consequences of a combination of outside brand power, expertise and superior IT, enabling the delivery of fast, cheap legal solutions.
New entrants will view legal services as they do any product.
* Caroline Coates is chair of Coventry First, the network for professionals in Warwickshire.