According to the LexisNexis report, Mind the gap, the main challenges and priorities for mid-size firms revolve around clients and staffing – not just attracting them, but holding onto them over the long-term.
Based on interviews and surveys with 56 decision makers and more than 100 practicing lawyers, 80% agreed that attracting new clients was their top priority and 75% were focused on retention and client loyalty. Suggesting that – for now – keeping up-to-date with legal developments ad news may take a backseat.
The problem is clients no longer walk through the door unsolicited, which places a heavy onus on marketing – which isn’t a strong point for many firms.
In fact, around 25% of fee earners have taken on responsibility for areas like marketing, social media and PR themselves – which is a far cry from their own areas of expertise, experience and training.
In the words of one lawyer: “I think as an industry we are miles behind in terms of marketing, business development and approach, which is why we find ourselves in trouble now. We have allowed ourselves to sit there and wait for the work to come through the door. Now that it doesn’t, or at least not as much, firms are struggling more.”
Lawyers today have to do more than simply serve their clients’ legal needs – they need to develop a deeper and broader understanding of their clients’ businesses and sectors, much like accountants do. As the business and branch numbers grow, they need to be able to serve clients efficiently, to a consistent standard and house style and have access to the best sources of legal information and systems.
One lawyer said client service is seen as a traditional weakness among lawyers, which means that it’s also one area where it’s still possible to make your mark: “I think as a general rule of thumb the legal sector is poor at customer service. If you compare with retail and financial services we are miles behind…”
Generally, those interviewed said that they’re facing growing pressure from clients to work faster and provide a higher level of service, while cutting costs and offering value for money. This is, of course, a much wider social phenomenon that’s reshaping many industries and professions, not just law. But it may come as more of a shock to a profession which hasn’t traditionally placed as much emphasis on these things.
Staffing was another high priority for those interviewed – 75% of those asked said that attracting the right staff was one of their main challenges and 63% agreed that staff retention was vital for a successful future. Even though mid-size firms are seen to offer a better career path and work/life balance, the lure of high salaries from city firms remains a real threat not just to outer London firms, but also to regional players near major business hubs like Manchester and Leeds.
Further down the list of challenges for mid-size firms is the partner issue, which affects almost one in three of the people we spoke to. Getting the partner to turnover ratio right is fundamental to the health of any firm – and with so many mergers and acquisitions taking place, living up to people’s traditional expectations of being partner can be problematic. One lawyer said: “It’s amazing how many don’t understand the business model. They want large salaries, no risk. We had a partner with a £300k following who wanted a £250k basic salary.”