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Legal sector insights

14 February 2020

Read our latest insights derived from the Professional Services Conference on the opportunities and challenges law firms are facing.



Professional services firms undoubtedly face some tough challenges in meeting the changing needs of their clients. To embrace the future – and take advantage of the opportunities it will bring – firms must ensure they can attract and hang on to the best talent available and take full advantage of new technologies. 

This report looks at inspiring future talent and promoting innovation. It is derived in part from the insights shared at Barclays’ fourth annual Professional Services Conference. 

We hear from leaders from across the sector about the emerging trends impacting on their businesses. And, in keeping with this theme, we've also spoken to some newly qualified professionals to get their perspective on a changing sector. 

Finally, to provide a client perspective, we look at the changing demands on Barclays’ own in-house legal function in an increasingly digital world.

Andrea Delay
UK Head of Business and Professional Services

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  • View from the top

    Key trends shaping the professional services landscape

    What are the key trends shaping the professional services landscape into 2020 and beyond? We asked some senior leaders from across the sector, who are overseeing some dramatic changes, for their views.

    Vision and purpose
    One of the key challenges for firms in recruiting new talent and retaining existing employees is the growing importance attached to a clear demonstration of a firm’s vision and purpose.

    Paul Edwards, CFO at DLA Piper, observes that younger lawyers coming into firms are driven by very different motivations compared to their older colleagues. “We've spent a lot of time on our values and we’ve been struck by the traction it's having, particularly with how younger people really engage with a wider purpose and get involved.”

    According to Maureen Penfold, Managing Partner at Moore Kingston Smith, the key is an authentic expression of a vision that runs through the whole firm. “People want to know how we impact on the community and what our environmental footprint is, for example,” she says. “We need to show we have integrity.”

    Flexible working, flexible careers
    While designing the right remuneration packages is obviously still important in recruitment, work-life balance and more flexible approaches to working are clearly gaining in importance. And, as more professionals embrace the idea of a ‘mobile’ career, tailored learning and development to suit each professional's personal needs is becoming more important as a retention strategy.

    Kate Wolstenholme, Partner at PWC, says that continual learning is a big part of the firm’s approach to retaining talent and that with new technologies now so important, investing in digital upskilling of partners and staff is a “real win – both for the firm and our people.”

    Technology and client relationships
    Of course, it is disruptive technology that is driving much of the change we are seeing in the sector. David Kerr, CEO, of Bird & Bird, believes technology is enabling remarkable innovation in the way services are provided to clients, especially from smaller firms, and predicts the use of data analytics will revolutionise professional services in the longer term.

    Arguably however, David believes firms are currently putting too much emphasis on efficiency gains in back-office systems, rather than in platforms that actually provide innovative services to clients. Most industry leaders agree that collaboration between firms, and with clients, is the way forward in developing the right technologies.

    The professions have long voiced concerns that the march of technology comes at the expense of personal client relationships. But while the adviser-client relationship will continue to evolve – future generations may prefer video platforms like FaceTime to face-to-face meetings, for example – David Kerr for one is convinced that “the personal chemistry between legal firm and client will still be absolutely fundamental.”

    Not only that, he thinks technology should enable deeper relationships with clients and that automation is freeing up advisers to talk to clients more about outcomes rather than processes. 

    Driving innovation
    In an era of unprecedented change, firms need a culture that supports innovation and isn’t afraid of sometimes getting it wrong. As Maureen Penfold puts it: “If you haven't failed at some things, you're probably not trying hard enough.”

    Innovation in the sector is also challenging traditional hierarchies. Maureen reveals: “We're finding that when people join us they expect to be treated the same as everyone else. That’s putting a new pressure on the leadership because you don't have the right to just tell people what to do anymore, you have to inspire them."

    Paul Edwards points to the need to have structures in place that allow firms to bring in senior people with specialist skills, such as in data analytics and AI, who haven’t typically been accommodated within traditional firm’s hierarchies.

    And all our leaders agree that diversity and inclusion are key to driving change. As Maureen says: “Just from an innovation point of view, if you have a lot of similar people in the room, you're going to get similar outcomes. Diversity of people means better outcomes.”

    World of opportunities
    Looking ahead, our professional services leaders believe there’s good reason to be positive.

    Despite increased automation of advisory services, talented professionals will still be valued – but they’ll have to be even more flexible because technology will mean clients expect to be advised in real time.

    David Kerr says: “I see huge opportunities for firms that can adapt quickly, embrace change, talk to their clients and listen to what they have to say. With people saying it's a terrible time to come into the profession – there's a world of opportunities out there. The trick is to encourage young professionals and empower them to see what they can achieve.”

  • Next generation insights

    Young professionals reveal what’s important to them in a career in professional services

    Attracting the best and brightest young talent to professional services is critical if firms hope to move with the times. We asked a panel of newly qualified professionals what motivates and inspires them in the workplace.

    Diversity and inclusion
    Lucy Carr, Associate at DLA Piper, echoes the sentiment of many of the younger generation in the professional services sector when she says that diversity and inclusion should be at the top of the agenda for firms. “People from different walks of life bring different perspectives and we need that to service our clients better.” 

    However, it’s important that measures to tackle this challenge are authentic. Pam Sidhu, Senior Associate at PWC, feels that what really matters is what people say "on the ground" about social issues like diversity and inclusivity. “In the era of fake news, younger people want to hear something real,” she says.

    Suliat Ogunyinka, a solicitor with TLT Solicitors agrees: “Firms need to show they walk the walk on diversity. This should apply at leadership level as well as junior levels because seeing diversity personified at the top of a firm says so much more than any statement on the firm’s website.”

    Mentoring
    Mentoring programmes aimed at helping young professionals to learn and develop are clearly increasingly valued by those entering the professions. Suliat says that young professionals are looking for genuinely supportive working relationships: “If there's something you haven't got quite right, it’s important there’s an opportunity to talk, learn from it and apply that to the next task.” 

    Well-being
    Professional services can be a fast-paced and demanding environment, and despite obvious progress, mental health can often still be a difficult topic for professionals to bring up. 

    The fact that well-being in the workplace is now being taken more seriously is welcomed by Puja Maini, Manager at Kingston Smith: “It’s something that’s definitely spoken about more. I think it’s important for younger people coming into high-pressure jobs to know that there’s someone to talk to if they need to.” 

    Work-life balance
    While out-of-hours texts and emails are increasingly seen as a normal part of working life, many young professionals are scathing about what they see as the outdated but still prevalent work culture of ‘presenteeism’ at many firms. As Suliat says: “It’s understanding that if you're in the office it doesn't necessarily mean you're being productive and vice versa.”

    Changing career aspirations
    While targeting partnership is still a career aspiration for many younger professionals, it's clearly no longer the be-all and end-all. Lucy Carr believes the next generation is likely to be more "loyalty lite", with many of her peers more likely to consider moving from firm to firm, joining an in-house legal team or taking a job overseas.

    And while a career remains important, younger professionals are perhaps more likely to see themselves as being more than just what they do at work. Pam Sidhu explains many of her peers see “more value socially in being a more rounded person.”

    Role models and leadership
    Strong role models and good leaders are seen as both an inspiration to young professionals and promoters of innovation. Pam says: “Setting an example from the top has such a powerful part to play in this. The strongest leaders in my firm are the ones who aren’t afraid to be themselves at work – it’s a powerful way to garner respect. This can even extend to things like office dress code – it’s a small thing but it’s one of the changes that have helped people bring their true selves to work.”  

    So, for the professional services sector to continue to attract the brightest and the best young talent it seems firms need to be transparent, authentic, dynamic and open to change. According to Lucy Carr: “As a generation we expect more. To cater for these changing attitudes, firms need to listen to what people want and respond accordingly.”

  • The client perspective

    A new kind of lawyer using the right technology

    Technology is fundamentally changing the way that client organisations operate and engage with their advisers. We consider how professional services firms need to keep pace with evolving client requirements by looking at how Barclays own legal function is adapting to change.

    New challenges
    With more than 2,000 commercial contracts negotiated each year, continuous 'repapering' of existing contracts because of changes in regulation like GDPR, not to mention myriad deals and products with a legal component, the scope of the Barclays legal function is vast. 

    Increasing digitisation of many of the bank’s operations has brought both tremendous change and new legal headaches. 

    Barclays General Counsel Steve Albrecht explains: "Ten years ago, the things a bank had to do to be safe were largely related to the balance sheet – capital, liquidity, making sure the bank was strong enough to survive any economic environment. Today, that’s just part of it. The things that keep us awake at night now probably have more to do with cyber security and data. The challenge is not only identifying risks and closing the gap against them, but how we talk to customers about that."

    The fastest growing issue for Barclays legal team to grapple with is data and cyber crime. The bank successfully fights off more than 500,000 attempted cyber attacks each year, many involving working with operational teams to advise what action they can or can't take, and how the bank engages with law enforcement agencies. 

    Re-examining skills, choosing the right technology
    In this context, Barclays has been re-evaluating the kind of lawyers it needs and the technology it wants to use.  Steve says: "We want systems that provide our lawyers with the right data so they can do whatever they need to do, wherever they are in the world – but we also want our lawyers to work as a team so we need technology that connects them.

    "WhiIe we prefer lawyers to legal chat boxes, I need lawyers who nevertheless understand automation. We want to bring the efficiencies of automation but still have the human lawyer to work with the business, understand the challenge and be that partner the business needs."

    Steve is an advocate of the so-called T-shaped lawyer: "Lawyers can’t just be the simple advice machine anymore – they need to have a broader skill set because our clients’ needs are different. They are often working more on technology platforms and you need to know how to plug into that."

    Digitising the legal function
    In relation to digital transformation of the Barclays legal function, Steve says the first step was to identify the available technology tools, then look at where they could be best applied to enhance processes. 

    "We asked some fundamental questions about the process of dealing with legal issues. Were we being alerted earlier enough? Were the details clear? Were we capturing the advice given in a way that it could be reusable in the future? Then we asked where technology could help and let that be our roadmap for where we used it to be more efficient."

    One of the benefits of automation, he says, is in speeding up the process of sifting through data, and freeing up lawyers to work with internal clients on the really tough questions that ask: can you, should you and what are the risks?

    The future vision is a transformation of how Barclays legal services are provided, with automation used to reduce administrative tasks, machine learning deployed to assist its lawyers in discovery, review and analysis, and maximising time spent on the high-value legal work that machines can’t do. 

    "You do that by asking questions like what does it feel like to be a consumer of Barclays legal services? Do our customers know how and where to get answers to their legal question? And do they get the right answer in a timely way?"

    He adds: "It's not enough anymore just to give the right answer. What we really need to do is deliver that in a way that the business can work with and that considers the end-to-end process."

    Steve believes this is the way all professional services providers should be thinking: "We find that the most successful relationships we have with outside law firms and other consultants are the ones where they’re thinking the same way as us and are plugged into the same model."

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