Core-Asset Consulting - 11-Mar-2021

Legal sector needs rapid tech revolution to win over young talent

SCOTLAND’s proud legal sector, often been seen as immune to shifting working practices, is now facing a double whammy of enforced and rapid change.

Embattled law firms coping with the ravages of lockdown have been warned that the fastest route out of the crisis is by embracing twin revolutions – in both IT and flexible working.

The trends have been highlighted in the sixth Annual Salary Guide into Scotland’s crucial legal and financial service sectors from Core-Asset Consulting. The report is a forensic review of current salary levels and a guide to the major issues that professionals need to be aware of.

Kim Bower, specialist in legal recruitment at Core-Asset, said: “Shifts in both working practice and the operation of the justice sector means legal firms need to be realistic about the scale of the challenges facing their sector and the speed of technological change required.

“Covid has accelerated changing attitudes to the importance of good mental health and home working. Creating an effective work-life balance will be increasingly important for legal firms and their employees.

“Flexible and remote working is likely to become the norm rather than the exception, the way that advice is given, clients are advised and cases are managed will need to continue to adapt.

“But the speed of technological change and innovation in the legal services market needs to pick up pace. Scottish legal firms still have ground to make up before they can claim to have fully revolutionised case load management and workflow through the use of technology.”

Kim says that well-deployed technology and automation will enable secretaries, paralegals and partners to work at the higher level of productivity, removing the need for the repetitive tasks that still permeate the profession.

The report points out that Covid had a sharp and sudden impact on the legal sector, as transactions halted, business was suspended, the property market all but ceased and commercial and private client work was cancelled or postponed.

However, even before the pandemic, profitability of legal firms in Scotland was lower than the rest of the UK and those financial pressures drove a number of global law firms merge with well-established Scottish practices – another factor driving the tech revolution.

Kim added: “One of the key platforms for merger success is technology. IT integration can dictate merger timetables. The smooth and functional importance of operating platforms, workflow management, document creation and billing systems are all critical components.”

According to the salary guide, increased technological advancements will create new roles and lucrative opportunities in the legal sector, highlighting the importance of lawyers in identifying and reporting on money laundering, fraud, cyber security, compliance and business ethics.

Meanwhile, Brexit, increased regulation, GDPR and corporate governance will also continue to impact and Kim added: “Legal firms have shown resilience in using these changes to their benefit.

Clients have required additional support and advice around the potential impact of impending regulations and the implementation of new frameworks. This means increased demand for solicitors with regulatory and immigration experience, ensuring companies do not fall foul of regulatory changes and that their workforces are fully protected.”

The main challenge for private practice firms is talent retention. Ambitious lawyers will continue to move firms for good opportunities, but Kim added: “To attract the best talent firms have to differentiate themselves by offering flexibility, access to cutting edge technology and clear outlines on progression.”

Core-Asset also predicts the percentage of the profession made up of in-house lawyers, both public and private, will grow. This reflects the changing requirements of companies and organisations on legal representation and reporting.

Despite strong female representation in the sector, the progression of women to more senior roles remains a challenge. Female solicitors represent around 30% of partnership positions, while the sector suffers a 20% gender pay gap.

Overall, the report predicts the legal sector will bounce back quickly from the pandemic, as more opportunities emerge from the crisis. Covid’s impact in hospitality, retail, tourism and the services sectors, will result in increased demand for skill sets in corporate restructuring, insolvency, litigation and family law.

And there will be a continuous demand for lawyers to advise clients on Brexit - employment rights, imports, exports, expansion, registrations and the legal operating models of other countries. There will also be an increased demand on governance.

Core-Asset Consulting was formed in 2005. Based in Edinburgh, it is now an £14m business employing 22 people and works across the entire financial services sector, from the smallest boutiques to the biggest global players.

Initially the firm carved its reputation in Scotland’s globally-renowned asset management sector. However, the success of its model allowed it to expand across the wider financial services market. It now boasts dedicated accounting, investment operations and finance teams and also works in Scotland’s thriving legal sector.

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