In the new “State of the UK Legal Market” report, we see how law firms in the UK are handling continuing challenges and leveraging potential opportunities.
LONDON — Over the past year, the continuing impact of the global pandemic and the aftermath of Brexit has weighed heavily on the United Kingdom’s legal market, leaving law firms there to navigate their clients through uncharted waters such as how the move away from the European Union will affect the region and how best to manage evolving trade, labor, regulatory, and compliance landscapes in the new environment.
Further, UK law firms are seeing the legal needs of their corporate clients shift and evolve as well, a process that started even before the pandemic crisis. Indeed, even as the pandemic crisis ebbs, law firms need to demonstrate new skills and levels of efficiency to meet clients’ increasing demands.
A new report, State of the UK Legal Market 2022, from the Thomson Reuters Institute, examines the UK legal ecosystem and sees how many of the main trends and developments that occurred in 2021 were — not surprisingly — strongly client-centric and client-driven, from a move toward increased legal spending to what clients want to see from their external firms in terms of expertise, tech-savviness, and efficiency.
UK clients are willing to spend
In terms of legal spending, the report shows that the UK legal market is experiencing its highest level of spend optimism of the last five years. Indeed, the percentage of UK legal buyers saying they’re anticipating growth in their overall legal spend in the coming months saw a huge increase, especially in practice areas like regulatory.
That means, the report advises, that UK law firms need to target their service offerings to clients to best address the areas in which clients are indicating they most need assistance in order to capture a larger share of this spending.
After having bounced back strongly in 2021, the UK legal market is poised for continued growth this year, even as challenges for law firms remain and their clients’ legal needs continue to evolve, the report shows.
In fact, the report shows that legal demand among global law firms with operations in the UK (admittedly, just a slice of the overall UK legal market), grew 8.7% in 2021 compared with 2020, and was even up 6% compared with 2019 — the last pre-pandemic year. Given this, UK law firms would be wise to keep a strong focus on their clients’ strategic priorities, engage those drivers that most impact client favorability, and meet client expectations in the delivery of legal services, the report explains.
For example, the report shows how UK-based corporate law departments are primarily concerned with helping their organizations recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, staying on top of the rapidly changing regulatory landscape (due mostly to Brexit), and leveraging a digital strategy in order to work more efficiently. To this end, UK law firms need to present themselves as capable, proactive partners that can help these law departments deliver on these goals.
As the report illustrates, UK legal buyers continue favoring those outside law firms that demonstrate a deep understanding of clients’ businesses and advanced technical acumen. Not surprisingly, client satisfaction rests on the ability of outside law firms to provide this kind of consistency and innovation.
The report also discusses the environment of new law firms or alternative legal service providers and how their use has grown within the UK legal market. That means traditional UK law firms need to be wary of this development and demonstrate their own ability to handle clients’ work efficiently and effectively.
“After having bounced back strongly in 2021, the UK legal market is poised for continued growth this year,” says Lucinda Case, head of Legal Professionals Europe for Thomson Reuters, adding that businesses are anticipating an increased need for legal services such as regulatory work, mergers & acquisitions, and labor & employment. “Those UK law firms that emphasize a holistic approach that focuses on thoroughly understanding a client’s business and applying proactive legal service supported by efficiency-enhancing technologies are likely to be most sought after by clients.”
The State of the UK Legal Market 2022 report combines research of more than 265 senior corporate counsel and the financial results of 29 global law firms operations within the UK.