Q2 2014/15 CommBank Legal Market Pulse report

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The CommBank Legal Market Pulse report for Quarter 2 2014/15, conducted by Beaton Research + Consulting,  has been published.  Providing useful insights into the latest trends and developments impacting on the Australian legal industry, this report has rapidly cemented itself as a staple among serious legal business developers in Australia.

Interesting outtakes from the latest report include:

  • unsurprisingly, given the continuing political uncertainty and falling commodity prices, many law firm leader believe there may well be a downturn in the broader economy over the next 12 months.
  • one in three firms are looking to expand geographically by opening new offices, with an emphasis on Perth, Brisbane and Canberra being the locations of choice. This is an interesting development as it had been the stated strategy of many firms in Australia for a long time not to expand outside of their geographic stronghold base. For example, for a long time HDY were only ever going to be a Sydney firm serving national clients. Now they have an office in Brisbane. Likewise for G&T (new offices in Melbourne and Perth). What I would be interested to find out though is how much of this expansion is self-driven and how much of it is been driven by major clients looking to rationalise the number of law firms they use? If that question was asked, I suspect we may find that this trend is more client-driven than firm-driven.
  • Asia at 89%, UK/EU at 67% and Brisbane at 52% are seen as being the geographic areas with the highest revenue growth expectations. Sorry but I find this nothing short of astonishing. Have any of these respondent law firms looked at how crowded the Brisbane and Asian legal markets are? And wasn’t it only a few months ago that PwC were reporting that return on equity for Asian law practices was the lowest globally (at somewhere in the 20% range). [that said, Clifford Chance did recently announce a desire to increase revenue in Asia by 25%]
  • expected changes in realised rates is a 1% (+) increase. Pathetic! Might I suggest the firms concerned consider not increasing their rates by 5-10% this year and instead concentrate on trying to get more than 80c in the $ in realised billing rates.
  • negotiating price with clients, at 81%, is seen as the biggest business challenge facing law firms. Here, I would hazard a guess that negotiating the price we want from our clients is probably the real business challenge as it would seem that price negotiations in law firms is a one way conversation at the moment.
  • the practice area with the highest revenue growth expectations is Government (at 55%). With the announced forthcoming closure of the Australian Government Solicitor potentially putting up for grabs around $111.3 million in revenue for private practice law firms, perceived growth in this sector shouldn’t be too surprising. What does remain to be seen is how much of this pie firms other than Clayton Utz (at 11% for 2013-14)  can get their hands on.
  • 54% of law firms surveyed believe revenue from “non-legal services” will increase over the next 2 years. While I was unable to find a definition of “non-legal services”, the relatively low (at 54%) number of law firm leaders who saw growth in revenue in this area does surprise me. This is especially so if services such as the recently launched Orbit by Corrs Chambers Westgarth is seeing as constituting “non legal services” (in that it is not core legal advisory work).
  • and finally, 70% of law firms see “recruiting partners and staff from competitors in the new location” as being the most likely method of geographic expansion, while only 30% saw this geographic expansion occurring as a result of a “merger with an existing firm” – so be on the lookout for 2015 being a very business year for lateral hires!

If you haven’t already done so, can I suggest you download a copy of the report. It really is an interest read.

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