Few professions are so steeped in history and age-old customs as the law. The legal profession itself goes back as far as ancient Greece and Rome, and even today, formal robes, and in some cases wigs, form the garb of barristers and judges in all Senior Courts of England and Wales.
A reverence for tradition – while understandable in many contexts – means that implementing reforms and embracing transformational ways of doing things rarely runs smooth. That’s not to say, however, that the courts have remained universally rooted in the past. For example, even before the onset of the pandemic, the UK’s Digital Case System – which allows case material to be accessed, prepared and presented digitally by the judge, clerk, defence, prosecution and probation – had saved more than 100 million sheets of paper since 2015.
But of course, when Covid first hit – I say ‘first’, its ability to boomerang back leaves much to be desired – law firms large and small were hardly immune to its insidious impact. While demand for accessible legal assistance is heightened in times of crisis, lawyers, just like the rest of society, had to rapidly adapt to the new normal of zoom calls and physical distancing, home working and shuttered businesses.
So how have they gotten on?
Adapting and adjusting
Although lawyers and IT often make for odd bedfellows, there is little doubt that the pandemic served as a catalyst for further digital transformation across the profession. The need to maintain and safeguard the administration of justice meant that the introduction of virtual courts, remote hearings and digital case management was quickly accelerated. Such initiatives, as well as government programmes such as the furlough, helped ensure that the profession managed to largely avoid sweeping closures and redundancy programmes.
For example, data from the Solicitors Regulation Authority shows that the number of regulated firms fell by 1.9% between December 2019 and December 2020. Sadly, legal aid firms have struggled the most with over 70 closing since April 2020. At the other end of the scale, however, record deal activity helped four elite London firms, known as the Magic Circle, report bumper results.
The good news is that the economy appears to be recovering strongly and contract opportunities across the public and private sectors have thankfully remained plentiful. For example, there have been over 1,500 open tenders worth more than £928 billion issued by the UK and Republic of Ireland governments within the last 12 months.
Of course, such opportunities vary in size from the smallest to the largest, but competition is fierce – if anything fiercer than before Covid and likely to remain so as the firms jostle for advantage as the economy recovers. While who you know is still important in any procurement, the process is becoming ever more digital, with more tenders moving online and industry open days and other one-to-one interactions becoming an ever more digital experience.
The sheer scale of this conversion to all things digital means that now, more than ever, businesses – including law firms – need to industrialise their business winning processes. This will enable them to reap digital dividends, such as using technology to streamline procedures and increase their own efficiency, and in the process save their precious time to do the things that cannot be streamlined – such as the human interaction that can often secure the golden nugget of information that secures the win.
An online treasure trove of information is now available, on both the market and on new opportunities that organisations would wish to bid for. Using data feeds, market trackers (like my very own Contract Finder Pro, for example) and integrating both outsourced (like bid writers and legal teams) and insourced components and services, the business winning process can become increasingly automated and slick.
Since there is never quite enough time to write a bid, those organisations that can automate the process most effectively and take advantage of the digital opportunity at hand will be more competitive than those that don’t. Their reward will be larger market shares and the promise of even more competitive advantage still to come. The future really is digital.
About the author: Sandy Boxall is the founder and Managing Director of Contract Finder Pro [email protected]