Now in its fifth year, LexisNexis Bellwether has released the first of three legal market research reports for 2017.

The research, in conjunction with Linda Jones & Partners, is based on 10 qualitative interviews and quantitative research with 118 lawyers in independent law firms (75% of whom had worked at larger firms in the past) on what makes law firms and lawyers successful.

The headlines from the report are as follows:

  • 87% of independent law firms are in good health
  • 65% of firms are planning to grow and none are planning to downsize
  • 83% are feeling confident about the future
  • 65% see being bespoke as the key to their success
  • A greater focus on quality (delivering first class service) over quantity
  • A third of respondents think that half the profession are not actually capable lawyers
  • A renewed emphasis on staff morale (78% reported poor staff morale as a negative issue in their career, closely followed by lack of mentoring at 63% and stress/billable hours culture at 55% and a lack of common goal at 46%).
  • Increasing strategies to become a boutique firm to steal clients from larger competitors

Most independent law firms see success as trinity of three important elements:

  1. Quality of expertise
  2. Solid commercial logic
  3. Commitment to treating staff and clients with respect

The factors seen most important for law firm success are:

  1. 57% quality of legal expertise within the firm
  2. 41% financially sustainable
  3. 40% treats staff with respect
  4. 40% loyal client base/trusted adviser role
  5. 26% shared goals/values across the team
  6. 25% high job satisfaction
  7. 20% well-positioned/competitive edge
  8. 19% well-informed about the client’s business
  9. 16% empowers lawyers to spend time needed on the case
  10. 16% operates a responsible and fair pricing policy
  11. 14% good at marketing
  12. 13% prepared to invest in the short term
  13. 11% support flexible/remote working

Personally I find this list rather worrying. These are, after all, the views of the lawyers interviewed as opposed to analysis of the factors amongst what would be considered successful law firms. These factors are rather inward and short term. I am surprised that positioning and competitive edge aren’t higher – and also that marketing is so low on the list.

The research into future scenarios was equally worrying – whilst the majority see non-legals competing directly with law firms, a similar number see an increase in small specialists providing quality service.

The top priorities for a good lawyer were seen to be:

  1. 69% understands how best to apply the law to the benefit of the client
  2. 46% common sense
  3. 35% skilled legal craftsman
  4. 32% human qualities
  5. 25% commercially astute
  6. 16% team player
  7. 13% uses technology to get the best legal solution
  8. 11% sound grasp of the business world
  9. 8% good at marketing

Again, I despair at this list. Where are the entrepreneurial and business skills? The leadership and management skills? The ability to recruit, train and grow the next generation of lawyers? Only a third think that “human qualities” are important? I fear for the firms that use these criteria for recruiting and promoting their people.

There are also interesting insights into current job satisfaction – which seems high – but highest amongst the decision makers.

The full report can be obtained here

Previous LexisNexis Bellwether reports are summarised here: (2016) (2015)

The Law Society’s excellent research report – including a detailed SLEPT/PEST analysis for the legal market is summarised here: