News & Opinion

News & Opinion from United Employment Lawyers. Breaking Barriers • Working Together • Delivering Excellence

Future’s bright if we keep traditional legal values

Posted on Oct 31, 2016 By In News from the UEL network, Opinion

In an article published in The Scotsman newspaper United Employment Lawyers Chairman Malcolm Mackay (pictured, left) argues that the legal profession can embrace change without losing sight of core purpose.

Scotland’s legal fraternity have always proven they can embrace change. The wig and quill pen has given way to the tablet and iPhone. And, over the past few years and since the banking collapse, the need to find new ways of working and serving clients has accelerated as law firms have struggled to find new revenue streams.

Since the early 2000s, the legal landscape in Scotland has been transformed as many venerable legal names have been consigned to history. Today’s big city lawyers are expected to harness technology to deliver faster and better value for clients. High-volume, low-cost generic legal ‘advice’ is freely available on Google and other search engines, although it’s never advisable to use any of the ‘download-a-contract’ apps that can undermine proper advice.

Increasingly, as the corporate and business world has become more complex, so too have the specialisms which have flourished. Who would have thought that inter-stellar space law would become a speciality in Scotland?

When I look back in my own field of employment law, some of my contemporaries raised a learned eyebrow when I set up Mackay WS, later Mackay Simon WS, almost 30 years ago to pursue the issues that were seriously impacting the world of work.  Today, employment law in the UK is one of the fastest growing areas of legal work with a whole panoply of legislation that has made the workplace a safer and fairer place.

So where does the generalist legal person fit in? In Scotland we have a rich tradition of our towns and larger villages having a local solicitor who knows the community and understands the working of community life. But with the continuing revolution in legal services fully under way how does the local lawyer survive? Across Scotland our civic leaders have shown their commitment to ensuring the survival of our town centres yet, in some respects, they have failed to recognise the significance of the local law firm on our high streets. Most locally-based lawyers I know across Scotland do a great deal more than simply dispense legal advice. They sit on local community councils, run Rotary clubs, offer pro bono help to local charities. In so many places across Scotland, they are the wise local voices.

We hear a lot about the digital predators, fast moving and adaptable legal businesses pitched against the rigid structures of traditional law firms. In my view, there is another way. Certainly, new kinds of technology must be applied to offer better-value services, but you simply cannot replace solid client relationships.

Scotland’s law firms are smart enough to appreciate this. Easy relationships can be built quickly in the digital space but, without substance, are also quickly destroyed. Furthering the interests of your client must be the heart of all legal work. That takes time and input. It is about giving the individual and business good value access to legal advice. And here I make a plea for Scotland’s high street lawyers. Many Scottish law firms have survived in their local communities for hundreds of years. It’s too rose-tinted to want to turn the clock back to the ‘halcyon’ times when the local GP, the district nurse, the dominie, the parish minister, and the local notary were the pillars of the community. However, I think it would be wrong to wipe away the local lawyers who continue to play a fundamental part in people’s lives. I can see a progressive and glowing future for innovative high street firms. The evidence is clear. They have the ability to adapt and have the most important assets –  trust, loyal client base and local presence. Internet and changing working patterns mean more individuals and small businesses need local services in increasingly complex areas such as employment law.

While firms need the courage to break free from the old rigid law firm business model and adapt to change, they must stay true to the values of the legal profession. They can thrive locally by using technology to access the specialist expertise, as and when it is required. Why should anyone living in Perth, Blairgowrie, Wick, Ayr, Galashiels or Oban have to venture to the big city and pay the big city costs? Surely much access to legal advice is better done locally?

What we have done with United Employment Lawyers is offer the specialist service that equips local lawyers to do what they do best – serve their local businesses and communities and to do so  by collaborating and connecting with national expertise. The business model also enables them to combine to deliver to national clients. Technology is a facilitator but the client relationship and quality of advice remain paramount.

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