A Deloitte February 2016 report, Developing legal talent: Stepping into the future law firm, suggests that by 2025, UK law firms will need a broader skill mix to remain successful. I agree but take issue with Deloitte on how to manage that mix.
The report finds that firms will have to “demonstrate strategic value to differentiate… from their competition through efficiency, expertise and service quality.” That expertise, Deloitte says, may include technology, pricing, relationship management, and product development. I agree. Law firms already employ finance experts, data scientists, IT specialists, and other internal and client-facing professionals.
I disagree, however, with Deloitte’s view on how to manage them. Deloitte believes firms will have less incentive to develop and retain “non-traditional” employees and will likely access them via “transient” means such as “through partnership arrangements or contractor models”. Deloitte does not make clear its case for transient.
In my view, there is a stronger case to treat lawyers as the transient and other professionals as permanent. I say that because of the current and likely future dynamics of the labor market for each category of professionals.
The lawyer market is transient now and likely to remain so. A robust temp lawyer market – from staffing companies to online market places – already lets firms easily flex the number of lawyers actively working on matters. Furthermore, lawyers are already demonstrably very transient: lateral moves occur daily. That we have so many temp services and laterals suggests the market already sees lawyers are fairly fungible. And with an ongoing lawyer oversupply, recruitment is not that hard. So continuing to flex lawyer counts will be easy.
Not so for other professionals. Law firms struggle now to find legal project managers and pricing professionals. Trends today suggest demand will continue to outstrip supply. Separately, much-coveted experts such as data scientists and cyber-professionals will have plentiful job options across industries for years to come. So finding and keeping these professionals will be harder than doing so for lawyers. That suggests law firms should work hard to entice other professionals to stay as permanent and long term employees.
Furthermore, the fungibility of other professionals is unproven. We know that lawyers can easily move within and across firms. Is the same true for other professionals? Perhaps but arguably, law firms will extract more value by keeping them long term. As permanent employees, other professionals can develop deeper working relationships with lawyers and clients plus learn more about the law. That will add value for both clients and firms.
Finally, if success requires an expertise mix, why favor lawyers over other experts? I would expect this conclusion from caste-system-minded lawyers who love saying “non-lawyers”. The surprise is that a Big 4 so concludes.