Why law firms need more than just lawyers

When it comes to choosing a lawyer, most consumers don’t opt for the firm with the best processes: without factoring cost into the equation, legal consumers seek high quality lawyers they can trust to resolve any matter of complex issue. It’s easy to see, therefore, why many law firms are established on the assumption that a good lawyer will run a great law firm and the clients will appear from thin air.

However, running a successful legal practice relies on more than just qualified lawyers: this is still a business, after all – as well as knowledge and expertise, law firms need people with a strong commercial awareness and an acute perception of the dimensions of business issues – not to mention outstanding communication skills.

In an era characterised by constant change, traditional firms have started to recognise the need for increased efficiency – not only to keep up with shifting client demands, but to retain a competitive edge amidst a tidal wave of new market entrants born from the introduction of The Legal Services Act. While specialist knowledge will always be the backbone of any legal practice, most firms today rely on a number of different departments to keep their ship afloat.

Building the dream team

Until 1986, lawyers were not permitted to advertise their services to the public. Fast forward thirty years and marketing departments have become a staple in the average high street practice. Given that a lawyer is no more a marketing specialist than he is a sales person, it’s simply illogical for a legal professional to be making decisions on subjects so vastly different from their daily activities. Naturally, the role of marketing, sales and business development have become key functions in the modern law firm: these professionals exist to support lawyers and allow them to concentrate on their job instead of worrying about growing the business.

As new technology continues to compliment the work of a practising lawyer, firms of the future will further place increasing importance on the role of IT experts who can help integrate new technologies into the workplace with ease. Naturally, this fast-paced transformation demands professionals in the HR sphere to handle employment issues and ensure a port of call for all members of staff should internal issues arise.

Already, the law firm is alive with experts from a myriad of backgrounds: while the lawyer does what they’ve been trained to do, additional teams take care of the business behind the law to ensure the firm not only survives, but succeeds.

Leading the firm of the future

Not so long ago, law firms selected their leadership teams from their own pool of talented lawyers. It wasn’t a bad idea, per se, but it works on the assumption that a good lawyer is a good leader. As you can imagine, that’s not always the case. In fact, non-lawyer CEO’s are becoming an increasingly popular choice for firms in both the UK and the US.

Scott Green, one of the first ever non-lawyers to take the role of a CEO in an American law firm says that “firms must increasingly analyse their performance, set targets and have a more scientific business approach”. As Chief Executive, his role at Pepper Hamilton involves determining the business’ strategy and overseeing back-office operations to ensure the smooth running of the firm. Rarely does he interfere with the work of the lawyers themselves, which is the responsibility of the managing partner.

As firms evolve further from the traditional model into more commercial entities, the function of the non-lawyer CEO makes perfect sense: by bringing in his/her competencies and business acumen, the firm can adopt a model that is more efficient and representative of the clients it serves. It’s time to let the lawyers practice and the leaders lead.