Disconnect grows between law firm service and client expectation, survey finds

The future of the legal sector is a cause for concern among legal professionals in the U.K., with large swathes of in-house and private practice lawyers saying they believe that the legal sector has been slow to embrace data, technology, and new models for delivering services. In Axiom’s second annual report on how changing career perspectives have persisted from pandemic to recession, most respondents also said that a disconnect has developed between what law firms deliver and what clients expect.

Over 90% of in-house counsel and three quarters of private practice lawyers said that the legal sector is slow to embrace data, technology and new delivery models – a significant increase on the 64% who felt the same way last year.

In terms of the disconnect, 96% of in-house counsel agreed with the statement that what law firms provide is out of kilter with what clients expect. The majority (78%) of private practice lawyers also largely agreed. Axiom’s report attributes the disconnect to costs – billing rates are increasing according to a recent Wells Fargo report – and the fact that firms often provide conceptual rather than practical guidance.

However, day-to-day client relationships appear to be driving positive feelings among lawyers about their jobs. When asked if they are satisfied with their jobs, 92% of U.K. lawyers on both sides said yes. 96% of private practice lawyers said they feel very close to their clients’ business and how they work.

Anxiety is perhaps unsurprisingly running high among lawyers over economic issues. More than 80% say they are concerned that a possible recession will mean cutbacks and headcount freezes for their departments and firms, and more than half (57%) say they strongly or completely agreed this was a concern.

The ongoing economic concerns of the last few years have taken their toll on lawyers. More than 84% agree their mental health has been affected by economic volatility and a looming recession with U.K. lawyers struggling to do more with less.

Economic issues may be prompting many lawyers to stay put. Just 21% say they are currently conducting an active search for a new position, while 58% said they might consider a new position but were not actively looking. Last year, when we asked the same question, half of lawyers surveyed were looking for a new post elsewhere in the next one to two years.

Future Career Plans and Locations

Remote work has encouraged most lawyers to think about new ways of approaching their careers, with more than 60% saying they would consider a position other than a traditional in-house or law firm role.

Interest in new law providers (NLPs) is increasing rapidly, with nearly 90% of respondents saying they are interested in working with a new law provider, including 55% who say they are very or extremely interested in doing so.

The reasons appear to be twofold. First, lawyers say they perceive NLPs as strongly aligned with their most important career priorities, including greater flexibility in work hours and location, less bureaucracy and exposure to new clients and work experiences.

Second, new law providers score highly for their ability to generate high-grade legal work and for their support of career development opportunities. As a result, more than two-thirds of lawyers said they would see a job with a new law provider as a long-term career move.

The survey was conducted for Axiom by Spinnaker Research among 170 lawyers ranging in experience from under three years to more than 16 years in the profession.

You can read the survey in full here: https://www.axiomlaw.com/2023-uk-new-life-in-law-survey-report