I say this as Lupton Fawcett is celebrating a significant milestone this year and I have been asked to reflect on what has changed since I started my career within the legal profession.
Before you think it, I have not been practising law for more than 121 years unlike Lupton Fawcett. However I have seen plenty of changes since I became a trainee at Dibb Lupton in 1985.
In those days, written communication between clients and other law firms was painfully slow. As well as ‘snail mail’ we also had a state-of-the-art telex machine in the post room which enabled us to send glorified ‘text messages’.
The telex machine made way for the fax machine when the postal strike of 1988 made a different form of communication essential. I believe that this was when the reliance on the Royal Mail was broken and the start of the communications revolution began for businesses generally and legal firms in particular.
The fax machine is already a fond memory like the telex machine as the technological revolution shows no sign of slowing.
But faster is not always better.
Back in the early eighties you dictated a letter which was then typed and reviewed. Once posted it could take a week or more to receive a reply which more often than not required a further response from you and so on.
This certainly gave time for reflection, as there was no way you could rush things. Unlike life today when we all expect an instant answer which does not necessarily lead to the best outcomes.
Another thing that has changed dramatically in the last 31 years is the proliferation of laws.
It is oft quoted, but it is interesting to repeat, that there are 56 words in the Lord’s Prayer, 297 in the Ten Commandments, 1300 in the American Declaration of Independence and 27,000 words in a European directive on duck eggs!
As a result of the incessant introduction of new legislation, which may slow down post-Brexit, the weight of regulation is enormous.
A further unwelcome change in the profession is that everyone has to be so much more vigilant when it comes to risk management. I refer not only to ensuring that you give the client the right advice and make them aware of the potential downsides in pursuing or defending an action, but also the threat of cyber-crime, with the potential to access confidential files and client accounts. Money laundering is also a big issue too.
Today the weight of competition within the legal profession is enormous. Granted many firms have merged over the years but at the same time this has spawned new smaller firms started by breakaways. Perhaps this is no bad thing as it certainly provides us all with the challenge of creating a point of differentiation to attract and retain clients.
However I am pleased to say that one thing hasn’t changed for more than a century and that is the value of a trusted lawyer. We should not just be there for legal matters but also to act as a confidante who can be a sounding board and to provide wise counsel, especially when emotion can cloud judgment.
Over the generations clients have had access to trustworthy lawyers they can turn to in times of need. I sincerely hope therefore that the profession does not follow the example of the banks whereby so many of us don’t know who our manager is.
That is why, as law becomes big business, we must never be tempted to put profit in front of professionalism. You only have to look at the banks to see the disastrous consequences of following that strategy.
So while there have been many changes, integrity remains very much at the forefront of the way we continue to conduct ourselves.
Long may it continue.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.