According to a 2019 report, the UK legal services market was valued at 35.1bn in 2018 and continues to grow. It is doing so while facing a set of unique and far-reaching challenges.

That is why there can be few sectors currently more focussed on their future direction than the UK’s law firms. As well as the rapidly changing business environment common to all organisations, the legal industry is experiencing a period of unique flux, thanks especially to technological developments, an increasingly well-informed client base, new business models and new market entrants.

The transition can be characterised as a shift in the immediate future from a traditional model of the law firm to one referred to by some commentators as a legal enterprise. This will involve the comprehensive restructuring of the business as it responds to a changing legal environment with new market entrants, disruptive technologies, a renewed emphasis on acquiring the very best talent and new ways of interacting with clients and their changing expectations.

Such profound and accelerating changes invariably manifest themselves in the culture of the organisation and the design of its offices. The design principles employed by law firms in their offices have helped practices make better use of technology, offer flexible working and implement agile working design principles, attract talent, rebrand themselves for clients and become leaner and more competitive to address structural changes in the market for legal services.

The challenges facing law firms may be unique in many ways, but the solutions they are applying in the digital, cultural and physical facets of their workplaces offer lessons for all 21st Century organisations. In doing so they are pioneering new technology, working cultures and forms of office design that point a way ahead for their sector and organisations of all types.

In this white paper, we will look at some of these solutions and the challenges and opportunities that drive them. Topics include:

  • Technology

In PwC’s most recent report into the legal sector, eight of the top ten law firms in the UK identified technology as the key challenge to growth in the next two to three years, reflecting a wider awareness of the impact of technology in the sector.

  • The new normal of AI

The second factor is the way that technology will change the core business model of many law firms. The most talked about issue in this regard is the impact of automation and artificial intelligence.

  • The war for talent

While technology may be the primary catalyst for change, law firms have already shown they are adept at dealing with new developments in their market. According to PwC’s 2019 Law Firms’ Survey, firms must continue to innovate at an accelerated rate just to keep pace with change; especially if they want to differentiate themselves from new service providers in the sector.

  • The impact of office space

Arguably, law firms have been slower than other sectors to adopt open-plan office designs, partly because of the need for confidentiality and security. But many are now waking up to the way that a new generation of office design models allow them to enjoy the benefits of open plan, by balancing their advantages in terms of cost and collaboration against the need for privacy and quiet with the provisions of supplementary spaces such as pods, cabins and meeting rooms.

  • The role of wellbeing

In 2019, The Junior Lawyers Division of The Law Society published the results of its latest Resilience and Wellbeing Survey. The research found that over 93 percent of respondents reported feeling stressed in their role the month before completing the survey, with almost a quarter of those individuals being severely/extremely stressed.

  • A changing workplace model

The PwC report into the changing roles of law firms argues that a changing marketplace and technological environment will drive change across the operations of firms including how they interact with clients and integrate the physical and digital workplaces to help recruit and retain talent as well as foster wellbeing and productivity.

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