Quoting from a recently published ‘UK Business Legal Services Market’ report, last week (10 April) the Law Society Gazette (England and Wales) published an interesting article re ‘Demand for business law rising but top-200 go niche as competition intensifies’.
The article reports that:
IRN surveyed the websites of the top 200 law firms to guage how many have created vertical sector teams to advise different industries. Thirteen vertical sectors are listed by over 50 firms, led by real estate (101), financial services and insurance (97), and hospitality, leisure and sport (91). Another 10 sectors reach double figures.
Interestingly going on to state that:
Some vertical sectors are already becoming crowded, the report warns, with the next emergent trend a move to more niche expertise. In health, for example, niche specialties include GPs, independent hospitals and social care.
With the likes of Tim Williams having advocated for a number of years that ‘niche expertise’ is one of the principal ways law firms can survive the future, with the publication and public discussion of this report maybe the time has one again come to ask:
- what do we mean by the term ‘full service’ law firm?, and
- is there any negativity moving away from this term.
In response to the first point, personally I have never truly understood what law firms were trying to achieve by claiming to be ‘full service’. Indeed, I’m not sure I can cite a single honest example of a big law firm being ‘full service’ (in Australia, most don’t do Wills & Estates and syndicated bank lending under the same roof).
On the support services side, ‘full service’ always seemed to be something Marketing had come up with in the early 2000s to ensure we had ‘cross selling’ collaboration and were not missing out on any opportunity with the rise of Globalisation.
On the lawyer-side, the term ‘full service’ law firm over the last 20 years seems to have meant that the lawyer could put their hand up to do bankruptcy as well as your latest employment contract (especially when there is little incentive within the firm to refer the work to the ‘true’ expert) – i.e., Jack of all trades, Master of none.
In response to the second point, I believe the article itself clearly answers this question – clients would prefer to deal with subject matter experts.
And therein lies the most interesting twist to this issue today:- it has been the case since I first started out in this business over 20 years ago that if you were considered a ’subject matter expert’, you would do well.
So, taking this all on board my take-out from this post is this:-
moving forward, if you want to be taken seriously, stop promotion your firm as ‘full service’ and start promoting both the firm and its lawyers as the subject matter experts.
Because that’s how we survived the future in the past.