Present and future trends unwrapped

Posted in News on 12 Dec 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, Douglas Scott’s Associate Director, Jon-Paul Hanrahan, takes a look back at the trends that have impacted the legal market this year and those emerging for 2019.

The year that ‘twas

2018 has been dominated by a trend of consolidation and mergers, which has led to a reduction in mid-tier sized law firms and a ‘boutique boom’. The specialist boutiques are springing-up across the country – they are no longer restricted to large cities – and are much more than just an alternative choice of firm.

As these boutiques establish themselves and build a reputation for their niche specialism, this is likely to propel a trend of acquisitions in the coming years as larger firms look to quickly and effectively develop leading sector expertise.

Another key trend we’ve seen this year is ‘outsourcing from the city’, which is also referred to as ‘north shoring’. The best legal talent is no longer just confining itself to London. For a range of lifestyle reasons, people are moving out of the capital or are choosing not to start their career there in the first place. The large law firms are astute to this and are taking work through their practices in London and then calling on talent from across the UK to deliver this.

Looking more specifically at employees, a key trend in 2018 has been ‘bringing back mums’.

Firms realise an abundance of talent has needlessly left the workplace because roles stay static and don’t evolve to fit with parenthood. They are addressing this and tapping into a huge talent pool through flexible working, the development of co-roles where jobs are being split between two people, and technology. This is also driving a trend of ‘work life integration’, which stretches beyond parents.

‘Work life integration’ is giving employees the ability to work anywhere and increased flexibility to fit working with their lives outside of their careers. Technology is enabling this, but more importantly, so is trust. Modern firms realise they don’t need presenteeism in offices to be successful, and that employees are happier and more productive when they can work flexibly. Indeed, it’s no real surprise that our Salary and Benefits Benchmarker for 2018 showed flexi-time as the most desired employee-benefit.

We can expect this trend to continue as millennials make-up more of the workforce. They’re ambitious and want fulfilling careers but want these on their terms. They don’t see a need to be sat in a daily ‘nine-to-five’ office environment or why working patterns have to be so rigid. Likewise, they’re happy to put in extra hours at evenings and weekends but will want to recoup these are a time convenient to them, which is often during what would otherwise be traditional office hours.

Looking ahead to 2019

One of the key trends we’ll see next year is an emergence of ‘sector specialisms’. Law firms are moving away from a practice-led approach as clients place more value on knowledge of the areas they operate within.

Businesses are looking for legal professionals who understand the intricacies of processes, market conditions and dynamics of their sector, and see this as crucial to the provision of best-fit legal advice. We’re increasingly finding clients asking us to match them with candidates based on specific sector experience and will see more sector-led divisions replacing practices within law firms.   

Technology is often a reoccurring trend, however, next year, we’ll really see law firms embracing digital communications technologies to create ‘virtual law firms’.

Building on the trend of London-based law firms outsourcing to talent across the UK, we’ll see other city centre law firms recognising the cost and talent benefit of recruiting professionals that live outside cities and have little desire to regularly commute.

The firms are building virtual networks of professionals who work on either a full or part time basis, or on freelance contracts. Technology streamlines working processes and can mean firms benefit from lower personnel and operating costs, while still offering clients leading experience and expertise.

Finally, one of the other key trends we’ll see next year is ‘differentiation’. The move of non-traditional players, such as big accountancy practices, into legal services is challenging firms and employees to think differently. Culturally, this is changing the working world of law. It’s becoming more creative and dynamic.

Firms are realising that reputation alone is no longer enough to appeal to new and future generations of talent. They need to be able to differentiate themselves as an employer of choice by demonstrating innovation, social purpose or a people-centric approach.

We’ll start to see more firms investing in their employer brand, creating cultures that encourage entrepreneurialism and reward creative thinking, and developing initiatives that meaningfully benefit society. Employees want the opportunity to work for firms that provide them with professional as well as personal fulfilment.

Supporting law firms, globally

Trusted by Legal 500, UK200, Top 100, Silver Circle, Magic Circle and US firms to deliver.


Sign up for Touchpoint, our monthly newsletter covering what’s happening in the legal sector plus the latest trends, case studies and not to be missed interviews.

Share this post