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The biggest challenges and opportunities for law firms in 2019

The legal industry has faced significant change in recent years, which has impacted the delivery of legal services and market practice—all against a backdrop of unprecedented political uncertainty. As 2019 approaches, law firm leaders have told Legal Insights Europe what they consider to be the biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead.

Paul Trudgill, Partner at Keebles

The perennial challenge facing Keebles in 2019 is preparing for Brexit—a process which will impact both positively and negatively on law firms depending upon their practice areas. Once the Brexit landscape properly takes shape, our challenge will be to react swiftly so that we can provide meaningful advice to our clients.

Clients are already asking me how they should prepare for the transition and it is very difficult to do anything other than give general advice—a situation which is further exacerbated by the constant political fluctuations.

Our internal issue as a full-service firm is continuing to recruit and retain talent at the right level. There are many practice areas with a dearth of qualified and experienced lawyers which makes developing the practice and sustaining our growth vision challenging.

Gideon Moore, Firmwide Managing Partner at Linklaters

No prediction for 2019 can fail to mention Brexit—it’s a moving beast and it’s hard to tell how things will look next week, let alone next year. But there is no denying that this will dominate a lot of activity in 2019 as businesses throughout Europe try and navigate their way through this new landscape.

It’s not the only significant global event that will occur though. Although China and US have said they will push forward with trade negotiations, investors will be watching closely to see if the two nations can resolve their differences.

Against this backdrop, our focus will be on servicing our clients and providing legal certainty in this changing world. Part of our strategy and key to providing excellent client service will be our ability to embrace new ideas, technologies and tools to help us challenge the present and shape the future. Spotting game-changing innovations, encouraging ideas as to how we sustain and grow our business and support incremental innovation will be a big part of this.

Ian Jeffery, Partner and Chief Executive at Lewis Silkin

We look towards 2019 with sharply different readings on our sensors. Present activity levels in law remain high, reflecting a very active client base across a range of industry sectors. The quality and extent of talent joining the profession continues its impressive long-term trend. The legal technology movement has hit its stride decisively over the last two years and firms have found the drive to innovate with scale and commitment. Our global reach as a UK-based service industry is outstanding.

Yet, the political and economic signals flash warnings at us, having turned more insistent each month during 2018. The technologies of tomorrow pose fundamental challenges for the structure of the industry in the 2020’s. Many of the super bright and focused graduates entering the profession now want a wholly different form of social contract to that which our generation signed.

The biggest challenge? Finding the signal in all the noise, setting clear direction and holding our nerves as firms and as a profession.

Claire Clarke, Managing Partner at Mills and Reeve

Negotiating the uncertainty and risk of an economic downturn is the most visible risk facing those law firms with a significant UK based client base—given the increasing uncertainty and political turmoil of Brexit, the limited time now before March 29, 2019 and the increasing risk of “no deal” or just further delay. Law firms need to be nimble enough to respond quickly to any impact and to also exploit opportunities which arise from the uncertainty.

More generally law firms need to be on the front foot in embracing technological advances around data capture and analysis as the market for technology solutions is now maturing. This involves making the internal changes of behaviour and ways of working needed to get the benefit of technology for their clients and their businesses, and more proactively reaching out to their clients to find and offer solutions that help their clients save time or money or get an edge over their competitors.

Susan Bright, Regional Managing Partner UK and Africa at Hogan Lovells

As we start moving into 2019, our focus is on three main areas: market uncertainty connected to Brexit; culture; and, embedding our approach to legal service delivery.

The coming months look set to be the most significant in UK politics since the EU referendum. The delayed meaningful vote in Parliament is a vital next step in the Brexit process, but the Prime Minister looks set to delay holding the vote until (she hopes) opinion among MPs moves towards backing her deal with the EU27. The stakes could not be higher. The default outcome on 29 March—what will necessarily follow if the government cannot secure the deal it has agreed with the EU or Parliament cannot agree an alternative course of action in time—is a “no deal” Brexit. Many in Parliament appear desperate to avoid this—there has been increased talk in the past few weeks of a possible extension to the Article 50 period, a General Election, or even a second referendum—but at present a no-deal Brexit remains a material possibility. This all feeds into the state of the market and the uncertainty our clients face now and into 2019. Working with our clients through the challenges ahead is a priority for the coming year. We also need to meet that challenge as a firm: the objective is to ensure that, whatever happens, we can carry on operating as close as possible to the way we operate today.

Culture has been a key focus for 2018 and will continue to be so for 2019. The importance of consistent and purposeful work on the culture of our firm is shared across our leadership team. We have done a lot of work to identify and describe what we are like when we are at our absolute best—and where we have room to improve to make this consistent experience. The challenges ahead are also new opportunities to operate at the top of the market, working on the most complex matters with our clients.

My third area of focus for the year ahead is continuing to evolve how we deliver legal services: 2019 will be about continuing to embed the work we do in this area so that we work as efficiently as possible—making use of new technologies whilst maintaining high standards. We will investigate the next wave of options while continuing to embed our Legal Delivery Centre, legal project management, our partnership with Elevate, how we effectively embrace and leverage legal technology and other innovations we have adopted across the business.

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