The managing partners of Australia’s leading law firms have just two choices: adapt to the New Normal or perish. The warning comes from Sharon Cook, managing partner of Henry Davis York, who says that in 30 years of practice she has never seen such a sustained period of deep change gripping the sector.

Ms Cook said challenging economic conditions both in Australia and internationally had cut the numbers of corporate transactions and IPOs, slowed property activity and bitten into infrastructure spending. “Law firms oil the wheels of commerce and at the moment we don’t have much to oil!” she said.

At the same time firms are coming to grips with a new legal landscape which has emerged from the rash of global and regional mergers and firms are jockeying for positions in that new landscape. On top of all of this, Ms Cook says that the sophistication of clients has soared in recent years heightening the need for law firms to deliver innovative, cost effective solutions and to provide real value to their clients. Ms Cook said the New Normal is putting new pressures and challenges on managing partners. “Now managing partners have to lead their firms, not merely manage them”.

She said that although there are signals that the recent flurry of change is settling to a more manageable pace, law firms need to accept that change and flux are going to be a constant feature of the future. Those that fail to acknowledge that and adapt to the changing environment could “fail spectacularly” she warned, pointing to examples overseas where law firms had been placed into receivership or forced into survival-style mergers.

Ms Cook is a member of the advisory panel and a speaker at the 2013 Managing Partners Forum conference, being organised by Chilli IQ, which will provide a forum for law firm leaders to hear from local and international experts on current best practice on issues such as leading through change; innovative legal service delivery; fee models to meet the needs of increasingly sophisticated clients; strategies to attract and retain key personnel; and coaching for high performance. There will be an analysis of the state of the legal market in Australia and in Asia Pacific and a consideration of what the future may hold for law firms and law firm leaders.

The two day conference is being held in Queensland in February (22 & 23 February 2013, Palazzo Versace, Gold Coast) and will zoom in on how the world’s most successful law firms are adapting to the New Normal, and the risks that face those firms which fail to prepare for the new environment.

The line-up of speakers includes Sharon Cook; Jason Ricketts, the Australian managing partner of the newly merged, Herbert Smith Freehills; Gilbert + Tobin managing partner, Danny Gilbert; John Weber, Chief Executive Partner of Minter Ellison; Henriette Rothschild, managing director of Hay Group Pacific; and Tim L’Estrange, the chairman of the L’Estrange Group. More information is available at www.managingpartnersforum.com.au