The COVID-19 crisis forced a sudden, new way of life upon the world, which scrambled for practical ways to adapt. The pandemic has forever altered us, revealing new priorities, capabilities, and outlooks.
As Albert Einstein said: ‘in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity’.
The world has changed over the course of a few months and there is no escaping that, with changes in the world come changes in law, specifically areas of law which are now more important than ever. Firms have been forced to adapt, not just on a practical level, but to their very core of operation.
A recent survey by Viv Williams Consulting identified that 45% of Welsh law firms are looking at options to restructure or redevelop their business (including acquisition of all or part of other firms to enhance their own position).
In a post-pandemic world, we will rely more heavily on technology which is where the next generation of legal professionals will excel.
The last 12 months have led to a flux in the marketplace with opportunities never being more abundant.
Whereas in the past some law firms in Wales have limited their head counts and expansion plans due to desk space, the rise of agile and remote working has allowed for virtual expansion with almost no limits.
Indeed, some of the big corporates in Cardiff have been fast to act in this space, already offering floor upon floor of physical office space for rent to other professional service firms as their own firm operates more remotely.
The new dynamic
Social distancing and remote working have created a new dynamic in the workplace. People are now seeing their colleagues at work in their home spaces with their pets and their partners and therefore the dividing line between personal and work lives has become blurred.
For future lawyers, this means that law firm hierarchies will be more flexible. Long gone are the stuffy days of old where promotion is based on years put in or nepotism.
A phrase that has come up during my research for this article is ‘digital maturity’. Firms across Wales have acted quickly to ensure the latest software and remote onboarding facilities have kept up with client and employee needs.
Barry Davies, Managing Partner of Douglas-Jones Mercer told me that as he looks beyond the pandemic, ‘only the most agile firms will survive’. He said:
“This will present multiple opportunities for new and existing lawyers as long gone will be the days of drudging into the office and working until 8pm at night.”
There is indeed a life outside of the law in Wales.
Almost every law firm I work with that has a conveyancing department have reported huge growth in workloads since the housing market re-opened and the extension of SDLT.
The upturn in demand also means that the recruitment market for conveyancers is buoyant with jobs advertised increasing as well as salaries and benefits.
Employment lawyers will be busy for the next few years. The workplace has changed and so employment law will grow to include more cases such as workplace disputes over working from home capabilities, safe working environments back in the office and employer’s duty of care. The potential impacts of long covid and employee sick remains to be seen.
We have seen a huge demand for family lawyers, not only during the pandemic but looking ahead.
The terrible strain on relationships as a result of the pandemic has caused instructions to rise exponentially. Proceedings have taken longer while social distancing measures are still in place, family run businesses may see a knock-on effect for many years and the number of care proceedings will continue to rise in family court after seeing an initial five-fold rise at the start of the crisis.
Private client law is an area that has thrived and has traditionally been one of the areas of law most common to the Welsh high street. Yolk had a private client solicitor vacancy going live each week of the past 12 months.
What lies ahead?
Looking to the future, the hope is that life begins to re-start and as such, so does business and legal services. This year we have seen and assisted with a multitude of ABSs (alternative business structures) setting up their own legal entities in Wales, and it seems there has never been a more relevant time when there are now so many new ways of working.
The positives for both potential employees and legal jobseekers alike is that some of the practices and decisions that have been forced upon law firms through this crisis are decisions that should have potentially been made in any case.
New Agile ways of working has allowed firms to become more leaner, offering opportunity to create more positions and raise salaries and benefits for new and existing employees.
For law firms, the pandemic has made talented lawyers realise that the workplace is not just bricks and mortar but a culture and lifestyle choice and therefore it has been easier for firms who have adapted quickly to secure the best talent.