Looking ahead to what 2014 might bring, who better to guide us than legal market forecaster and crystal-ball-gazer, Jordan Furlong. If you don’t already, I strongly recommend you follow him on Twitter @Jordan_law21 or on his blog Law21: Dispatches from a legal profession on the brink if you are keen to understand the market forces at work in the legal sphere. Specialising in the US, Canadian and UK legal markets, he served as an award-winning editor of several Canadian legal magazines and is the author of Evolutionary Road: A Strategic Guide to Your Law Firm's Future. This man most definitely knows how to write to grab and keep your attention.
“I’m wary of predictions” is the first thing he tells me. “Over Christmas I’ve been reading Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, and I’m acutely aware that as a profession we lack the data to be able to predict the future with any accuracy.” Does he think the legal profession is particularly poor in this regard, I ask him. “I do, because I think there’s a link with the mindset required for the job. Lawyers intrinsically lack a respect for mathematical data and analytics.” He quotes a famous Sherlock Holmes line: “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has the data. Insensibly one twists facts to suit theory, instead of twisting theories to suit facts. This is an occupational hazard for anyone practising law,” he says, “because our work often relies on our skill to argue facts to suit a client’s best position, not to reach the correct conclusion.”
I point out that the full title of Nate Silver’s book is The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail but Some Don’t, so Jordan relents and peers into his crystal ball for me ... and he doesn’t disappoint.
“In the broadest sense, the progression and evolution of the legal market is unmistakable and irreversible. There are forces in motion that are outside the control of lawyers taking the market in an entirely new direction. The good news is that the market will open up and improve, become more like a functioning corporate or consumer marketplace.” He sees five main ways in which the market needs to improve and is already changing: two on the supply and three on the demand side:
- “First, we need more providers of legal services that aren’t just lawyers, and here I think England & Wales has led the way.
- “Second, we need higher quality of services, among both lawyers and the new entrants to the legal market who are finding their way. Yes there will be failures as new models are tested, but failures are an important part of the evolution process.
- “Third, buyers must continue to become better informed. Buyers need more information about the law and the legal system, and they could use help to identify the best type of provider for what they need. Helping purchasers of legal services select their advisers more wisely would be a valuable new type of legal service.
- “Fourth, the evolution of new tools needs to continue: better legal technology, more mechanisms and processes at buyers’ convenient disposal.
- “Lastly, and this is the big one, disinterested regulation of the profession must continue to improve. There are two distinct aspects of legal regulation that lawyers often get confused. I believe lawyers should fight hard to defend the first kind, the ability to regulate professional matters ourselves (so standards, admissions, professional development and disciplinary matters, etc); that’s the core of our independence. But others outside the law should take on the second role, to regulate the marketplace itself.
When you look at jurisdictions where the most substantial market change has resulted, for example Australia and the opportunities that have opened up for Slater & Gordon, and of course England & Wales and the Legal Services Act, governance has been put in the hands of people outside the profession. I hate seeing us lose self-governance and I hope it never happens again, but when regulation of the legal market is taken from lawyers, innovation happens and access starts to improve.”
So exciting times ahead. Here’s to the coming year. Wishing you all heath and prosperity in 2014.
Others who have been busily crystal-ball-gazing for our benefit include The Lawyer's Katy Dowell, Joanne Harris, Lucy Burton and Kate Beioley who published their Top 20 Cases of 2014 this week. We were delighted to see a number of our clients feature prominently. The Lawyer's Top 20 tells us to expect some of the largest-value cases the High Court has ever seen, with only the most entrenched disputes making it to court. Many of last year's big disputes have already settled, parties not having the funds to pursue them all the way. So in 2014 we are promised a show of some of the most bitter commercial logger-heading.
If you haven't caught up with the listing yet, you can take a look here. The Lawyer is still the only magazine with sufficient breadth and depth of contacts and knowledge in the world of civil litigation to be able to talk about court actions to look forward to, rather than looking at the year that's been. Make the most of it if you want to be in the know!
Genius director Martin Scorcese's The Wolf of Wall Street premiered this week and I am poised to buy tickets for my own viewing as soon as it opens on the high street. With a stellar cast that includes Leonardo di Caprio, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey and even England's very own national treasure Joanna Lumley, and with reviewers raving that this is Scorcese at his absolute best, I can't wait to see this tale of banking excess.
Bizarrely, I hear that bankers throughout Europe have been block-booking seats ahead of release and using the occasion to plan some major client hospitality. Given the film tells the story of disgraced US stockbroker Jordan Belfort who made a fortune out of defrauding clients, spending his ill-gotten gains on all manner of hedonistic pursuits, I'd say this is a risky business development strategy. But that's just me.