The legal sector needs to focus on the challenges facing it and tackle them head on rather than burying its head in the sand according to the new president of Birmingham Law Society.
Mary Kaye, family law partner at SGH Martineau, believes the sector is no different to the rest of the business world as it navigates its way through tough times globally.
And Mrs Kaye said that firms should not feel threatened by Alternative Business Structures, the new legislation under the Legal Services Act allowing companies like the Co-op to enter the legal services market.
“These are tough times in the business world,” said Mrs Kaye. “The legal profession is not the only one that is changing but it is happening to every profession, teachers, accountants, police – other people, not just us.
“Irrespective of what people say we are in a global recession or at the very least facing continued global hard times. I hear about the green shoots but anyone with sound financial knowledge would know we could not get out of it so quickly and are not going to get out of it without tough love.
“We were all hit by this big tsunami of financial destruction and we are not going to get out of it easily.”
Mrs Kaye believes law firms, particularly smaller ones, will continue to face difficult times.
She said: “The reality for me is that the profession is going to have to get more efficient, if we don’t change a lot will fall by the wayside. We can as a profession be complacent.
“The climate is changing. We are in a new legal landscape, we have to face up to it and deal with it and those that deal with it will survive. We certainly can’t stay the same and those who adapt will survive. That might mean smaller firms changing, forming their own co-operatives.”
With the Co-op one of the few big names to have secured a licence to enter the legal services market thus far Mrs Kaye said if it secures employment in the region for the legal profession, she would welcome them on board if they decided to set up an operation in the Midlands.
“ABSs came with a whimper rather than a bang,” she said. “The Co-op is the only major service provider that has got an ABS licence. People thought we were all going to be swallowed up by the stock market and be inundated with private investors but that hasn’t happened. “There’s no point holding your breath and thinking it isn’t going to happen. If they are bringing work to our region it is a good thing.
“If they are going to give work to people entering the profession they are another employer and you might as well complain about another law firm taking on additional people. The Co-op has a good brand name and is respected by a lot of people. There is a big legal market out there, we need to wake up and see they are here in our own back yard and we have to be able to deal with it.”
As far as other issues go Mrs Kaye also said she believed the dividing line between solicitors and barristers would continue to be worn down, though she hoped both professions would remain distinct.
“The lack of public funding in the court system is a big problem facing the profession with the whole chambers structure struggling,” she said. “There is a belief that very soon barristers and solicitors could be merged together in an effort to survive. Personally I hope it doesn’t happen, I think there is a role for both and a different skill set.”