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With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the legal industry has already seen incredible changes in the way it operates, with more firms and legal professionals working remotely than ever before due to necessity.

As technology continues to evolve with digital transformation as a whole becoming an increasingly important focus in the sector, it is helping to support more flexible working practices, improve productivity and reduce cost, and firms in Wales in particular are looking to take advantage of these benefits as they focus on future operations post lockdown.

There are undoubtedly big changes ahead of us in the legal industry across the next 12 months, some of which may have been accelerated due to COVID-19 but cannot be disregarded for future growth.

Jody Tranter, Head of BARBRI Altior, shares her key considerations for training and the legal profession as a whole over the next year.

Globalisation of legal markets

Globalisation of the legal profession began in the 1990s for firms operating in the UK and US and has slowly increased in popularity since then. Yet, as Welsh firms begin to feel the effects of Brexit on international operations, it’s likely that globalisation will become ever more important for those looking to maintain a competitive edge in wider national and global markets.

We predict that firms will likely be looking to expand into countries with economic growth potential including India, China and South Africa and as many look to implement modern working methods, technology will continue to support this mission, meaning teams can continue to operate effectively from remote locations.

SQE introduction

The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA) intends to introduce the Solicitor’s Qualifying Exam (SQE) in the Autumn of 2021 to create a centralised exam for all prospective solicitors in Wales and England. Consisting of two parts, SQE1 will be knowledge-based whereas SQE2 will be skills-based.

“This new approach aims to open up current entry routes into the profession, meaning that applicants will not need to have a law degree specifically, but they will need to have a degree level equivalent qualification.”

Additionally, it will take a more flexible approach to training for learners and firms alike and we envisage that the benefits from this more flexible approach will start to be felt across the industry.

Focus on blockchain

The introduction of cryptocurrency has been relatively slow in the legal industry, with only 2% of providers utilising this technology. However, we predict that its impact is set to increase, particularly in conveyancing law to enhance the speed of transactions and reduce costs to firms, helping to improve profit margins and allowing firms to compete on a global scale. In2019, HM Land Registry completed a trial involving blockchain to digitally transfer property ownership. Although this was simply a ‘proof of concept’ activity, it has confirmed its Digital Street project, allowing the organisation until 2030 to familiarise itself with this technology and how it can be effectively integrated.

During this time, it will likely become more commonplace for firms and legal professionals alike across Wales and the UK as a whole as more realise its potential.

Remote & flexible working

The coronavirus pandemic has seen professionals all over the world turn to remote working as the solution and professionals in Wales are being urged to continue to work remotely where possible. However, outside of the current necessity, it does have its perks. CIPD research highlights that 87% of people want to work flexibly but only 11% of jobs are advertised as such. This research also shows that flexible working structures help to generate 43% more revenue and improves performance by 20% in comparison to disengaged employees.

“…if this can become a trend in Welsh firms, we can expect greater retention rates and an increased volume of talent attracted from across the bridge.”

With secure storage via the cloud and changing expectations for the working environment, we expect to see this trend continue beyond the coronavirus outbreak, especially for those working to create a better work/life balance or manage family life. Additionally, if this can become a trend in Welsh firms, we can expect greater retention rates and an increased volume of talent attracted from across the bridge.

Freelance solicitors

In November 2019, the SRA confirmed that solicitors would be able to explore a freelance service offering, something that had not been available previously. They no longer will have to register as sole practitioners or work as in-house counsel but instead, will be able to generate their own work.

According to Law Society Gazette, consumers in the UK have already embraced this initiative, with 58% stating that they would be ‘very likely’ or ‘likely’ to use a freelance solicitor if the price point was lower than appointing a firm and we predict that people in Wales will look to take advantage of this offering. In 2019, Sir Nicholas Green, chair of the Law Commission of England and Wales stated that many people in Wales felt disconnected from the law, with more private citizens representing themselves in courts and tribunals than ever before. However, as more affordable alternatives become available to make legal representation more accessible, this trend will likely change once again.

The legal industry is continuing to evolve in line with technology, as well as the changing needs of professionals who operate within the sector and it’s critical that firms in Wales keep abreast of the changes. Over the next 12 months, we predict that LawTech such as blockchain will have a greater impact on operations for firms in Wales, helping to streamline processes and heighten efficiencies, helping them to widen their reach on a global scale. Yet, we would estimate that additional technological developments will also be introduced or bolstered within the industry as it continues to gain prominence, and some firms may now be looking to accelerate their digital transformation journey due to necessity.

“We predict that changes to qualification will also have a far-reaching impact, with many firms and individuals looking to prepare for and respond to the introduction of the SQE.”

This will be the biggest change since the introduction of the Professional Skills Course (PSC) in the 1990s and as a training provider preparing to deliver SQE prep, we will be closely monitoring this situation as it evolves. However, we predict that changes to qualification will also have a far-reaching impact, with many firms and individuals looking to prepare for and respond to the introduction of the SQE.

Jody Tranter

Head of BARBRI Altior

Jody is the Head of BARBRI Altior, which has provided skills training and assessment to the legal profession for over 35 years.