Trends in the legal market: what aspiring lawyers need to know

London Met LLB Law student Florin Badulescu reports on a guest lecture delivered by Craig Sharpe, Marketing Manager at Axiom DWFM.

Date: 3 May 2022

Craig was a commercial solicitor and worked for a couple of small law firms until he set up his own law firm. He ran it for ten years, ultimately finding out how difficult it is to run your own business: to manage the staff, to recruit the people, and get the right work in. He decided he needed a change, and fell into marketing, now working as a consultant for law firms, including Axiom DWFM.

That in itself can give us a perspective into what has changed in the legal market.

Legal services - a buyer’s market?

At the beginning of the speech, he showed us terrifying statistics about the upsurge in solicitors during a period of 50 years. In 2012 there were seven times more solicitors than in the 1960s. The vast majority of lawyers that work in civil law practice property law, representing small businesses or individuals, and deal with family law, probate, wills and trust, and legal disputes.

Craig argues that there is an inflation of legal services providers in the marketplace. Therefore, clients have gained an advantage over solicitor firms, with the legal service market becoming a buyers’ market.

The cause of the hike is that law is a great qualification and is often seen as an enhancement to a CV, so people have continuously seen it as a pathway to a good, safe career. Craig no longer thinks that being a lawyer is a job for life anymore. In fact, he doesn't think that many jobs are guaranteed jobs for life. This explains why in the past six years, more law graduates have been pursuing other avenues rather than law. 

Historically, clients have felt uncomfortable asking lawyers how much a service will cost, or how long it will take. Whatever the fee was going to be, it was seen as correct - they were seeing a professional and they had to trust the professional. However, that has changed. Now, the first thing that s/he will ask you is likely to be “how much?” The client wants to use a profession because the legal work has to be done properly, but the price has to be proportional. 

How the internet changed the game

The first thing that someone does when they have a legal problem, they ‘Google it’ – you, and I, clients, and lawyers Google things. Therefore, the kind of advantage that lawyers once had has largely gone because of the internet.

Despite the increased competition and changes in the market, some law firms are not doing anything to safeguard themselves.

An old-fashioned type of lawyer may not care whether clients go online and review them, but the trouble is that clients do care. If they see that you are not doing your job properly or you are too expensive, then they are likely to choose another legal services provider. 

Most law students are likely to join a smaller firm that must look attractive to clients. These firms will be interested in junior lawyers who can see how the market has changed and can adapt to it. 

However, even in the biggest law firms, this problem has come into the equation. Now, the biggest ‘Magic Circle’ law firms have costing departments, and they are normally not staffed by lawyers. 

There are conversations about multi-million-pound transactions with international clients who all want a very detailed proposal, including how much work is going to cost. And if the law firm gets it wrong in terms of costs, the lawyer will suffer the loss. Therefore it is vital for firms to get the pricing right from the beginning. 

The importance of risk and commercial awareness

Another thing that has changed is that lawyers are now required to take risks and provide clear advice. Sitting on the fence, as old-fashioned lawyers did, is not an option anymore. 

Multinational firms want lawyers to assume some of the risks. The reason they do that is that it makes them feel more comfortable, as the lawyer has got some ‘skin’ in the game too.

Business skill is becoming just as important as legal knowledge, with an increased focus on commercial awareness. You must show your clients that, on a cost-based analysis, it is worthwhile to use a lawyer; then you must sell your services to show that you understand where your client comes from. It is a difficult balance between your legal skills, which are good writing, thoroughness, and legal know-how, against the clients’ needs who wants to get to the end of the game for the best price. 

If Craig were to recruit someone, he would be looking for adaptability (a can-do approach; getting involved in things that have nothing involved in it for you). 

When you start out at a law firm on an internship, you will be expected to not only have studied law and to be decent at it, but also understand that the lawyers are assessing you for what Craig calls “street fighter” skills. They are asking themselves whether there is something about this person that tells me that they are going to be adaptable, ‘be up for it’, understand that the law is much more than being a lawyer. 

If you go in an interview and behave like a law student, then that law firm cannot see (nor can they, perhaps, from your CV) what it is about you that can help you prosper in the changing legal environment, especially your maturity, business thinking and approach. 

Employers are increasingly expecting employees to be ready at an early stage, to navigate their way in front of clients, and demonstrate a level of maturity and trustworthiness.

The key takeaway is that, in some ways, law is the same profession but in other ways, it is a very different job and students need to understand this and prepare before applying to law firms.

What students thought

Louisa Touah was one law student who attended the event. She said, "I believe that the talk was very helpful, Craig clarified the key issues and benefits with current changes in the legal field. Craig was informative and gave constructive advice about the different routes into the legal sector and other job opportunities that are emerging in the industry. I appreciated his honestly on the difficulties that a law graduate may face in securing a legal job at a big firm and it was good to know that there are other options to get to where you want to go."

Another student, who wanted to remain anonymous, said, "Thinking about what is next after graduation can be very daunting.  The talk presented by Craig Sharpe made the reality of standing out in the crowd much more important and the realisation that pursuing a career as a solicitor can be challenging especially when searching for a training contract.  Setting a realistic goal is as important as developing the relevant skills needed to demonstrate the key attributes.  The information he presented was very insightful and made me understand that keeping an open mind, preparing, developing, and enhancing the relevant skills will make me stand out and carve a niche in a competitive and brand-oriented world where demands for resourcefulness and performance is the new norm.

"There has been a shift in the way law firms operate their business, the work culture has changed from the usual traditional ways of doing business in the legal industry.  The craving for innovations, competitiveness, and commercial awareness has created a different way of sourcing for employees who could adapt to the change and bring in business-changing ideas through their life experiences.  I am more determined to become a solicitor with a much broader mindset and understanding."


man delivering a lecture

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