Law firms must transform to retain clients and staff

19 April 2023 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
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The UK’s legal space is facing ever greater levels of disruption, as changes in working practices and new competition eat into its client base. A new report suggest that if historic legal services operators fail to adapt to these pressures, they could pay a hefty price.

As one of the oldest sectors of the economy, the legal services sector still honours many traditional working practices. While these practices – which tend not to operate with a “human being at heart” – are historically change resistant, however, a new report from Enfuse Group suggests that firms may not have a choice when it comes to responding to present trends. Without transforming operations in their current form, the firm asserts that the legal sector will struggle to keep its gain or retain both clients and staff.

One trend which firms are increasingly encountering relates to the world’s four largest professional services firms, which have pushed ever deeper into the legal market. With huge international reaches, and more agile and flexible working habits, the likes of PwC, EY, Deloitte and KPMG have been rapidly winning market share, and accruing talent, in the sector. In fact, some experts believe they could soon win a combined 5% share of the legal market’s global income – with a combined revenue boost of more than $30 billion.

Law firms must transform to retain clients and staff

Alongside this, legal services firms are also facing increasing competition from professionals who decide to go freelance – both eating into their market share, and seeing talent exit life in established offices for more freedom. Illustrating this, a 2021 survey by American Lawyer found some 60% of midlevel lawyers in the country would consider moving jobs for a better work-life balance, while 27% said they would leave for more money.

According to Enfuse’s experts, if firms do not face up to these changes and transform to involve a more human-centric approach, then, “traditional firms will self-destruct”. To help adapt, Enfuse explored six key ‘personas’, which firms need to weigh up if they are to successfully adapt.  

Clients

First, in terms of clients, the researchers noted ‘the experience driven client’, who is motivated by great value for their money or could be receiving pressure from senior colleagues to find better value. These clients could be easily captured by a competitor, if they catch their eye with tailored marketing efforts. Legal services offered by traditional firms have not been designed with client experience at the heart of them – with a study from First4Lawyers even finding that only 37% of legal firms were monitoring client reviews. If legal services providers are to maintain experience driven clients, though, they must at least begin monitoring satisfaction, as a means to building a holistic experience clients will better relate to.

Meanwhile, ‘the digital client’ is one whose digital expectations are increasing every day. With no time for services that don’t provide speed and efficiency that allow them to fit their legal matters around their business or life, firms could lose them if they do not provide an efficient digital experience, accessible at their convenience. Enfuse advises firms hoping to attract new clients under the age of 40 – who will soon dominate the customer market – to start creating a digital transformation strategy, aligning with the firm’s overarching vision and help grow the business further.

Then there is ‘the savvy client’; one who is willing to shop around, as they know there are many other legal offerings available on the market, which they can turn to, to make their life easier. To that end, a poll by Legal Services Consumer Panel found 40% of customers were willing to do this, but even so, another IRN survey from 2022 found that only 21% of law firms invest in their website. Simply promoting services in accessible, jargon-free language, and displaying great customer reviews on company websites could be the first step in firms hanging on to these savvy clients – but again, knowing how to appeal in this way depends on knowing what customers want, so monitoring feedback is important here too.

Staff

A recent study by PwC predicted that talent attraction would be one of the four biggest risks to the financial performance of UK law firms in 2023. While salaries have risen significantly in the legal sector, many firms are struggling to retain ‘the experience driven worker’. These staff often had time to reflect during the pandemic and came to realise that there is more to their career than money. For example, women in the sector who still experience inequality in it, will look outside of their firms for an employer or alternative sector with a better employee experience – often finding it in technology-driven companies and at the Big Four professional services firms. Cultural change must therefore be a priority for legal services firms.

Another employee who took stock of their situation in the lockdown months is ‘the flexible worker’ – who may have found they improved their work-life balance, while remaining productive, working from home. Many traditional firms remain hostile to the possibility of hybrid working, though, pushing this worker into the arms of other employers, happy to welcome their talent on board. While the legal sector does need to consider the challenges associated with flexible working, such as cyber security, and staff training, Enfuse suggests these risks can be minimised with a sustainable, flexible working approach. Again, this may require cultural change, however – particularly when it comes to trusting staff to manage themselves.

Finally, Enfuse suggests legal services firms need to meet the requirements of the burnt-out worker. In 2021, Legal Cheek reported that amongst UK lawyers, those aged 26-35 – a key component of any firm’s future leadership – were at the highest risk of burn-out. This is seeing junior lawyers look to different career paths altogether in a parallel sector that promises a better work-life balance – reflected in the fall of those who want to be a partner in the sector falling from 31% to 23% in just three years, according to a Major, Lindsey & Africa study. To combat this, Enfuse concludes that changing workplace culture to place a higher value on employee wellbeing ultimately creates a happier and higher performing team – and reduces turnover.