Dame Sandra Dawson, Professor Emeritus of Management Studies at the University of Cambridge
Illustration by Ben Kirchner
Law and lawyers are on the move. From nomadic lawyering to outsourcing, and from northshoring to the much anticipated demise of billable hours, the next ten years will see huge change – and opportunity – for firms and practitioners. This is a sector in flux, and out of flux can come interesting, innovative thinking.
What does this mean for lawyers at the cutting edge? Uncertainty, maybe. Disruption – of business models, and accepted norms – certainly. But we also have within our grasp a unique opportunity to interrogate every aspect of how law is practised. Is London the only place to be a legal superstar? What is the right balance between working face-to-face and working virtually? How do we give clients value? And how do we ensure they feel that they have got value? How do we compete with the accountants? Or in other jurisdictions? Those who find the most innovative, effective solutions will secure the future success of their firms. And in an environment that can only get more competitive, those who don’t embrace change must fall away. We live in exciting times.
Meanwhile, the Law Society predicts that the number of female practising certificate holders will outnumber men within the next 24 months. Diversity in the name of meritocratic fairness is an unassailable argument, but perhaps more compelling for the sceptics is the well-founded proposal that diversity improves margins, productivity and creativity. In other words, diverse teams can be more agile and responsive. They are likely to be better able to grasp the new and varied opportunities that the next decade presents.
And that is why I believe the most successful firms in 2030 will be those who have enthusiastically and systematically ensured they have recruited and promoted women to the very top of their organisations. They will be the firms who, in 2015, decide to take a long, hard look at their culture and working practices – and make radical change. Who recognise that letting brilliant women leave just because they become mothers does not make financial sense. Who realise that mentoring, networks and coaching are just the start. Who are seriously monitoring their pipeline of stellar lawyers. We know that men, as well as women, want to work differently – and that many of the best practitioners will go to firms where they can do that. Legal services are in flux, but the future is ours for the taking.