Is the BigLaw business model sustainable?

This is the question that I was recently given five minutes to answer! This post is intended as a more expanded response. It begs some prior questions about what we mean by ‘BigLaw’, ‘business model’ and ‘the BigLaw business model’. But [spoiler alert] the short and long answers are the same: it doesn’t look like it.

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Misperceptions of ‘deregulation’

Last month, Boston Consulting Group published a report that claimed to assess the effects of deregulating legal services in England & Wales, as driven by the Legal Services Act 2007. The analysis and conclusions are, to put it at its best, disappointing. I am grateful to have been spared the need to offer a detailed review, thanks to this informed critique of the report by Alison Hook.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that the report’s authors based some of their work on my independent review (Legal Services Reform: Regulation Beyond the Echo Chambers, published last year). However, having done so, their report could encourage others to take my principal conclusion – that further reform is needed – and, contrary to my intention, use it to amplify the echo within the chambers of my title.

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An independent review of legal services regulation

The announcements are out, and the work has started!  I’m honoured to be leading a fundamental review of the current regulatory framework for legal services in England & Wales through the Centre for Ethics & Law in the Faculty of Laws at University College London.  Full details are available here.

The independent review is intended to explore the longer-term and related issues raised by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) market study in 2016, which concluded that the legal services sector is not working well for individual consumers and small businesses, and that the current regulatory framework is unsustainable in the long run.  It called for a review of that framework to make it more flexible as well as targeted at areas of highest risk where regulation is most needed.

The time for the review is right.  In the light of Brexit, ‘taking back control’ presumes full confidence in our domestic rule of law and legal institutions, as well as maintaining our performance and competitive position in the global economy.   The provision of effective and properly regulated legal services is critical to maintaining the rule of law, and the effective and efficient administration of justice.  It is also necessary for sustaining the UK’s position and reputation as a world-leading jurisdiction for the governing law of international transactions and for the resolution of disputes (though this already appears to be under some pressure as a result of Brexit).

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