Australia has had no shortage of representatives from UK law firms arriving on our sunny shores in recent years so it only seems courteous of me to return the visit.It will be interesting to get a first hand sense as to whether those visits south east and the marriages that often followed have slowed to a trickle, have stopped completely or are now focussed elsewhere.
Following the Clementi Report of 2004 which looked into the regulatory framework of legal services in England & Wales and essentially recommended a total overhaul of the legal profession,much has been written about the impact the UK Legal Services Act 2007 (the Act)has had on legal services since it became law in 2011.
Depending who you read (and if you want to read anything about what is going on in the UK legal profession you could do alot worse than read Neil Rose's Legal Futures),you could be forgiven for thinking the Act has had absolutely little or no benefit to either the profession nor its clients; or it has single handedly sent several firms and lawyers out of business or into early retirement;or it has been the best document drafted in the Old Dart since the Magna Carta.
In its simplest form this legislation was intended to, at the same time,both liberalise and regulate the UK legal market, principally by encouraging greater competition and providing greater and less costly access to justice for consumers. Radically it allowed non lawyers to effectively own law firms and it set a framework for creation- or recreation- of multi disciplinary practices (MDP's)-things the Australian profession of course allowed several years ago but something US lawyers and regulators still can't get their collective heads around.
Non lawyer ownership and/or investment was permitted via an Alternative Business Structure (ABS).Since 2012 nearly 350 ABS's have been authorised.
I am fortunate to be meeting with a couple of those ABS that have incorporated MDP's and are utilizing different business and pricing models.You don't necessarily have to be an ABS to do some really creative things- especially with technology- and I will also be meeting with some of the more innovative leaders of non ABS firms as well. Like Australia start ups and disruptors seem to be springing up all over the place in the UK, and the changed UK regulatory landscape has made it possible and easier for law firms and other legal service and product providers to access external capital and investment.
Is what is happening in the UK of any relevance to what is or might happen here in Australia?
Good question. After all Australia has, in many respects, led the legal world ( at least to date )in allowing a more liberalised market, incorporated practices,non lawyer ownership and external investment. Inevitably though as the world becomes a smaller place as more and more firms and their clients increasingly operate in cross jurisdictions and because sooner or later many trends in the UK and US more often than not find their way here,we might be able to learn more about how we could either better focus or better diversify our practices.At the very least the UK experiences might give us more food for thought as to some different and more effective ways of delivering our services.
Or it might simply allow us to be more prepared for the arrival of even more disruptive technologies and business models.
I will post more on my return in June of some of my experiences (subject of course to firms confidentiality requirements).
In the meantime Keep Calm.