Our Council comprising 20 members meets once every two weeks. The scope of work of the Law Society is wide ranging and our meeting agenda is usually very full. Apart from its biweekly meetings, the Council also convenes periodic strategy planning meetings to brainstorm on key issues. We recently held a strategy planning meeting on Saturday, 2 September, and I would like to express my gratitude to my fellow Council members, who contributed a full day of their valuable time.
We reflected on the past, evaluated the present and discussed the future. We focused on four main areas – use of technology, talent retention, other entrants to the legal service market and regulatory cost control.
The legal service market has been evolving rapidly. There are a multitude of factors driving the changes, which can all be linked to rapid advances in technology.
Technology breaks down communication barriers, shortens distances and connects the world. An increasingly globalised economy facilitates international and cross-border transactions. This phenomenon imposes different demands on lawyers, including the need to be mobile, build international networks and develop cross-border skills.
Millennials, who grew up in the age of technological connectedness, are entering the workforce or reaching their prime working years. Their affinity for technology to a large extent shapes their behaviour. They are more dedicated to wellness. They stress work-life balance and demand more flexibility in work arrangements. They not only affect the workforce of the legal service industry, as legal service users themselves, they also affect the way legal services are delivered. They are used to instant access to price comparisons, product information and peer reviews, which are made possible through a variety of technology fuelled platforms and devices. Clients are therefore increasingly sophisticated with more access to information. They become more demanding in pressing for affordable, accessible, certain, transparent and value for money legal service providers.
To sustain the profession, including those resistant to technological changes, solicitors must be prepared to adapt to this new era. We will make it our top priority to develop a roadmap outlining what the Law Society must do to better assist practitioners with taking advantage of currently available and viable technological solutions.
Upon a review of a snapshot of the profile of the solicitors’ profession in the past two decades from 1996 to 2016, the proportion of qualified solicitors not staying on in private practice seems to be on an upward trend. There are myriad reasons for this, including insufficient work in law firms as a result of intensifying competition in the legal service market, a mismatch of work opportunities that are available and the type of work the practitioners are interested in, as well as the attractiveness of flexible work arrangements and work life balance in sectors other than law firms. To sustain a healthy development of the legal service market, talent retention is crucial. Law firms are strongly encouraged to put in place measures that address the changing needs of the new entrants to the profession. To this end, the Law Society will be actively exploring ways to attract a continual supply of legal talent to service the market.
The legal services market is becoming crowded with the proliferation of different types of service providers, in addition to traditional law firms. This inevitably leads to a more competitive environment for solicitors in private practice. The Law Society will regularly update the profession on the development of the changes in legal service delivery around the world and closely monitor the local situation from the regulatory perspective to ensure the public is adequately protected.
Regulatory Cost Control
The legal profession is a highly regulated profession. The Law Society takes a serious view of any breach of the standards of practice. As reported in our Annual Report, in 2016, the Law Society exercised its statutory powers pursuant to the Legal Practitioners Ordinance to intervene in the practices of four law firms. Some of the interventions involved active practices of a substantial scale. As the relevant records of the intervened firms appeared incomplete, the intervention work in 2016 required much more of the Law Society’s resources than in preceding years. 2016 recorded a substantial deficit as a result of the high intervention costs.
Intervention into the practice of a law firm is a serious matter and the Council will only exercise this statutory power when it is absolutely necessary to do so. Regulatory costs will be incurred in the process, but they are incurred for the protection of the public interests. The Council has considered different ways to control the regulatory costs and will be implementing them accordingly.
For intervention work, a law firm will be engaged as the intervention agent. Circulars to the general membership are issued regularly to invite applications from law firms to join the Panel of Intervention Agents. Feedback from members indicated that there may be interest, but that some firms have been slow to submit an application due to lack of prior experience in this area. As such, the Law Society is planning to organise relevant seminars to share the general nature of work with those firms that are interested.
I will report further on the progress of the above major initiatives. In the meantime, if members have any comments or suggestions, please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.