The Legal Services Act 2007 is a major piece of legislation affecting the traditional set up of the legal industry. The act enables the setting up of alternative business structures (ABSs) from October 2011 and allows non-legal enterprises to offer legal services to businesses and individual clients. By opening up the industry, law firms can seek external funding through floatation on the stock exchange and can merge with other professional service organisations.
With the introduction of ABSs, high street companies, like the Co-operative, are able to offer legal advice, undercutting the traditional legal firm’s fees and providing a more cost-effective service.
Developments in the legal profession
Legal Practice Course (LPC) providers can offer more tailored LPC programmes, fast track options and programmes designed in partnership with employers such as commercial and high street focused LPCs. The course is divided into two stages, compulsory and elective, and you can study with different providers at each stage. For the second stage, it is possible to study each of the three electives at different institutions.
The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) replaced the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) in September 2010. The Bar Standards Board (BSB) introduced measures to make the application process and study of the BPTC more rigorous. This included a voluntary aptitude test and increased pass mark. From 2012, the BSB will set three examinations as part of the qualification in civil litigation, criminal litigation and ethics.
The Institute of Paralegals introduced a new structured and recognised route to qualification (RTQ) from 1 October 2009. On completion, a paralegal will hold the title of qualified paralegal. There are four stages: affiliate; associate; certified; and qualified.
Firms need to improve electronic communication, as clients value ease of contact, reduced costs and speed of response over face-to-face contact and local offices. Increasingly, services such as legal advice in personal injury cases and conveyancing are being delivered electronically.
The Law Society Management Section Annual survey shows legal practices recovering from the global financial downturn with a slight increase (0.2%) in practice fee income in 2010 compared with a 6.5% reduction in 2009. Law firms are starting to recruit again based on the 200 firms involved in the survey.
Many in-house legal teams in non-contentious areas of law, especially in construction, banking, and the financial and insurance industries, are planning to expand in the near future. This could lead to a reduction in outsourcing to external firms.
Law firm investment in China is likely to increase as economic growth there generates work. Many international law firms have already opened offices in China. For example, Eversheds, Ashursts, SJ Berwin and US firm Goodwin Procter.
Firms are hoping for the liberalisation of the legal services market in India and South Korea, which would allow for expansion into the market in those countries. In the shorter term, Vietnam with its underdeveloped legal market may be a potential prospect.
The public bar is being encouraged to move into more general advisory work as legal aid cuts are indicating less work for barristers in these areas. The bar has created new business units to enable barristers to provide direct advice and for chambers to employ Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) graduates without pupillage to undertake basic legal tasks within chambers.
There has been a growth in the number of paralegal roles filled by LPC/BPTC graduates without training contracts. This could result in certain practice areas operating more call centre type operations with an increase in less qualified legal advisers and fewer qualified specialists.
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