Much has changed since I first entered the legal profession. In terms of tools of the trade, email has replaced fax and telex, PCs have replaced typewriters and word processors. Encouragingly, the individuals working within the industry are more diverse (in terms of background) thanks to improved access to higher education plus a greater acceptance of women in professional services. I was something of a novelty when I first joined Latimer Hinks in 1976. I was the company’s first woman solicitor and was one of only three women practising in Darlington at the time. Women now play a major and leading role in most forward-thinking legal firms albeit that, particularly in the cities, the industry is still very male-dominated – or is certainly perceived as such.
Within the legal profession we are seeing a number of firms growing larger, with regular news stories of mergers and acquisitions. We’re also seeing more smaller, ‘boutique’ firms popping up to serve clients, with niche services providing for specialist requirements.
As a result, clients may now use multiple solicitors as suppliers/providers for different needs.
Latimer Hinks is now niche with specialisms in non-contentious private client, commercial and property work of all types – commercial, residential and agricultural. When I joined the firm, we were very much a more general practice.
Ultimately provision of a great service involves the development of fantastic relationships between the solicitor and client. For me, one of the most important pluses of the job is being able to offer clients excellence in delivery of service, a consistent point of contact and the opportunity to develop relationships with trusted advisers.
Latimer Hinks has been a practising law firm for 125 years. We can trace back connections with some clients for three, four or even five generations, and I know from speaking with clients that this is very important to them.
The infrastructure and compliance and administrative demands of modern day practice – for example investment in technology – will involve, for some smaller practices, unaffordable overheads and expenditure demands. I can see that the ‘big guns’ of the legal profession and others with multiple offices and therefore economies of scale will continue to expand, which will put a squeeze on smaller firms. I believe that there is going to be a real issue of survival for smaller general practice firms and cannot see how they will survive let alone thrive in the medium to long term.
Having said that, when it comes to choosing a solicitor, ‘big’ doesn’t work for everyone. Larger practices inevitably have a higher turnover of staff and often can’t provide the same level of continuity and personalised service.
At the end of the day it will always be about relationships, and provision of a superb service at a price fair to both provider and consumer.