by Dee Caporali, director for Access, specialist in providing HR software to the legal sector

With the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) now a licensed regulator for alternative business structures (ABS), this month marks the start of it accepting applications from legal firms. As one would expect, Chief Executive Antony Townsend welcomed the news, stating on their website: “It means the public can have confidence that ABS providing reserved legal activities will be regulated according to the same rigorous professional standards as traditional law firms.” If all goes to plan, the SRA should announce its first successful applicant early this year.

It will certainly be interesting to see how things materialise. All firms, regardless of whether or not they go the ABS route, will have to be more competitive and innovative in their approach. Undoubtedly some tough decisions need to be made in this new deregulated environment which will see the commoditisation of legal services.

Technology will play a part in helping firms strengthen their position, whether this is through streamlining business processes and cutting costs, improving customer experience, or managing human capital more effectively. In terms of the latter, with more competition for the best lawyers it will be vital that firms look after their most valuable asset. A cliché perhaps but crucial to future success and firms are increasingly focusing their attention on HR technology.

The introduction of ABS would mean a huge shift in how firms operate, from the individuals they employ to the training they receive as well as succession planning. There is a strong likelihood that firms will be a mix of legal and non-legal professionals as was highlighted in research commissioned by Access to mark its 20th anniversary, titled The Future of Technology: transforming mid-market business operations*. A growing belief that multi-disciplinary practices (MDP) are the future business structures of legal professional services organisations will bring solicitors together with accountants, independent financial advisers, estate agents, surveyors, and other professional services providers, all under one roof. Clients will be able to obtain advice on conveyancing, tax and financial planning, personal injury and wills, from a single firm. Given the potential varied scope of professional services offerings, firms need to consider technology that is wider in scope than the traditional practice and case management systems used up until now, integrating the different areas of the business as well as managing the diversity of talent.

HR systems will help to smooth the process from identifying the need for new skills, to meeting staffing requirements and ensuring that professionals with the right expertise are allocated to clients – this is especially important given the SRA’s move towards a more qualitative style of measuring professional conduct and service delivery to customers. Succession planning is another area of rising concern for firms, given they are turning away from the traditional route of promoting partners within the organisation. This means they will need to carefully review the incentives they have in place if they are to avoid haemorrhaging the brightest talent with the increase in competition for their services.

The bottom line is that technology is an enabler that can help firms more efficiently manage their business; for the HR director in particular it helps them to automate as many of the day-to-day administrative tasks as possible, alongside supporting recruitment drives, CPD, personal development/training programmes and self-service – and crucially providing the business intelligence needed for HR teams to play a strategic role in the firm’s direction, and ultimately their success.

* http://www.theaccessgroup.com/ft