The legal market in Europe is ever-changing, but now, as we approach the turn of the year, there is no doubt we are at a pivotal moment. One could say that the tide has risen and the world of legal services as we know it is gone. While it would be easy to blame everything on the pandemic, the COVID-19 crisis has merely accelerated certain processes that have been swelling up and ready to burst for quite some time. The trends we have been observing have just gained momentum. It is essential that law firms accept the challenges and prudently navigate the dangers.
Market on the Move
In the last couple of years, the environment we operate in has been reacting quickly and flexibly to the lurches and shifts of the economy. Our clients’ businesses have grown exponentially, and there has been a lot of reshuffling in the market. These changes have been mirrored in the legal market, too. In Poland, we have been experiencing some key consolidations, as various competitors team up in hope of enhancing their market strength.
Simultaneously, many lawyers, tax advisors and consultants have moved from big firms to establish small, dynamic boutiques. They are challenging the narrative that only one-stop-shops can thrive on the market. Today’s clients want to choose between the global reach and expertise of those who can provide virtually every kind of legal advice, everywhere, and the highly-focused specialist. The change has already come – now we are entering a stable plateau, where global firms and local boutiques are moving from competition to cooperation.
At the same time, the market has made itself heard – in Poland, many state-controlled entities have put a cap on their legal fees. This, for all intents and purposes, has blocked big player access to the public sector, and has given small firms an advantage. This stirred up the market for a while, but stimulated motivation to win new clients. Believe it or not, the market is thriving.
The Shift of the Brand
Some international law firms have pulled out of the market, but the core of their intellectual potential – the lawyers – is still there. These major moves have undoubtedly left their mark, but have not shaken the legal business.
A strong brand is simply not enough: the lawyers themselves must support the brand experience. The brand promise is a strong and encouraging statement, but it is the daily work, engagement and reliability of the whole team – from partners, through counsels, associates, paralegals, and support staff – that delivers on the promise, day by day, doggedly and consistently.
We can also see that the rank of personal brands is growing – the achievements, commitment and ever-evolving talent of individual lawyers is what clients look out for today.
We must embrace this dichotomy. We need to keep on combining the standards of professionalism, integrity and best practices with versatile open minds. We must deliver the benefit of the reach, expertise and knowledge we have as law firms, especially those of global clout, while also bringing a human and individual approach to the client – that personal touch. Those who grasp the new order will not only survive, but profit by it.
The Business of Trust
Adapting to our clients’ needs is the bare minimum – what we need to do now is not only anticipate the change and adjust accordingly, but to go the extra mile and redefine our line of business. The change brought by the pandemic is not an ephemeral episode – it has altered our reality for good. To survive as law firms, we must help our clients survive as well. We need to support those who pay our fees - that is obvious. But in serving our fee-paying clients and our pro bono causes, we also have the opportunity to participate in realigning the principles upon which our society is founded.
On a personal note, for the last couple of days I have been rediscovering Bob Dylan. “You better start swimmin’, or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changing,” he sang. How fresh and apposite the message remains.
By Arkadiusz Krasnodebski, Managing Partner, Dentons Poland