Small and medium law firms in South Africa have the unique opportunity to harness their agile decision-making and more efficient cost structures to take advantage of realities in the profession such as disaggregation, legal process outsourcing and stratification, in order to grow their businesses.
This is according to law firm strategy consultant, David Lancaster, who previously served at the helm of one of South Africa's most successful professional services firms.
“Smaller firms can be much more agile in responding to market trends. If they can identify their niche markets and the clients they want to act on behalf of, if they have an attractive pricing model and also use the right technology, then they can position themselves quite well in this new world where clients are looking for much more value than they were historically,” says Lancaster.
Cost pressures and greater competition in the market are creating challenges as well as opportunities for the smaller firm. Lancaster says that the disaggregation trend is seeing more clients breaking down work into smaller components, rather than placing all their legal work in the hands of just one large firm. In an increasingly stratified and cost sensitive market, small to medium sized firms are also scooping work from bigger firms when they are able to demonstrate clearly identified areas of expertise.
Technology also remains a big driver of change that acts as both a disruptor and an enabler. “Clients are now turning to legal process outsourcing and alternative legal services providers to serve them as new age technology partners. At the same time, many clients are also developing stronger in-house teams,” says Lancaster.
Small and medium law firms do contribute significantly to the South African legal landscape. However, like most businesses, they are faced with a host of challenges. Cash flow, retaining and growing a client base, the effects of the economy and being up to date with their profession are all concerns.
The market has also changed since 2014 when LexisNexis data showed that of the 10,930 law firms in South Africa, more than three quarters were considered small firms of 1 to 10 fee earners mostly engaged in litigation, debt collecting and conveyancing.
Lancaster indicates that in addition to the roughly 14,000 different attorneys that are qualified according to the Law Society, of whom 18% are in small practices, there are a number of other variations within that grouping. They include the big six firms, mid-range firms, the 12 to 13 international firms, audit firms running legal practices, in-house teams and counsel, legal process outsourcers and alternative service providers, as well as legal networks and alliances of top tier firms such as Lex Africa and the African Legal Network (ALN).
“If you look at the market from the client point of view, potential clients see so many options from which to choose – from a sole practitioner to the biggest firm in the country or an international firm. This means that the small to medium sized firm must position itself to be truly competitive,” says Lancaster.
Recognising the challenges and the need for inclusive conversation and support for such firms, LexisNexis South Africa and the Gauteng Law Council will jointly host the Small and Medium Law Firms Boot Camp on 20 July 2018 at CSIR in Pretoria.
The event aims to address the future of Small Law in South Africa and to offer insight into best practice to keep smaller firms on the road to success. On the agenda is an exciting line-up of speakers, who will cover diverse yet relevant topics including:
- The Small Law Firm in RSA - What is the future and how to prosper? – Presented by David Lancaster
- Medical Malpractice Today – Presented by John Mullins SC & Paul du Plessis
- Legal Research - Advancing What is Possible – Presented by Louis Podbielski
- The Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Act, 2017: Compliance Obligations for Attorneys – Presented by Johan Van Staden
- The Legal Practice Act - All you Need to Know – Presented by Krish Govender
- Outsourcing - Smaller Investment Bigger Results – Presented by Ned Daze
- Practical Business Advice to Lawyers – Presented by Chris Pearson.
As a pioneer in the legal information and compliance solutions space, LexisNexis recognises the importance of small law and has introduced a new Lexis Library pricing solution. Lexis Time Select meets both budgetary and time saving criteria, adding intelligence to legal information. In a tough environment where clients demand more bang for their buck, legal professionals from small and medium law firms need to access the most up-to-date information quickly, efficiently and more cost effectively. The Small and Medium Law Firms Boot camp speaks to this need, enabling attendees to take one step closer in advancing their legal intelligence.
Practicing/Candidate Attorneys can register to attend the Small and Medium Law Firms Boot Camp at R750.00 per person and non-members at R980 per person. To register or for more information, visit https://www.lexisnexis.co.za/events/boot-camp#speakers