The race is on

By | 25th August 2009

Usain Bolt’s electrifying run in Berlin last weekend which resulted in a new world record of 9.58 seconds for the 100m set the press speculating on how low he could take the world record.

Recent events in the global economy have led to a very different run for lawyers. Judging by the gloomy stories coming out of all sections of the legal market, you could be forgiven for wondering how low matters can go! 

Stories abound of redundancies, falling profits, part time working, enforced sabbaticals, deferred training contracts and even advice from the Law Society to students not to go into the law. 

While it is clearly a very difficult market at present, I wonder whether the autumn will bring relief to hard pressed firms in the form of an upturn in litigation, regulatory and other forms of contentious work. 

There must be plenty of disgruntled ex-employees keen to take their erstwhile employers to a tribunal just as there must be clients gearing up to take action against their former financial advisers in an effort to recoup some of the losses they have racked up over the past 12 months as a result of stockmarket gyrations, falling asset values and the like. 

In previous recessions, the early sightings of the green shoots of recovery have usually been proved to be premature, often because they were first seen by politicians soon to seek reelection or by chief executives keen to reassure angry shareholders. 

Now I am not suggesting that there is going to be a tidal wave of litigation which is going to lead the country out of recession or even lead to the restoration of tarnished crowns in the legal world, but there are signs of increasing activity in the litigation market. 

There is evidence from our clients of an increased willingness on the part of clients to see what they can make of the mess they are in which sometimes involves considering the launch of proceedings or a determination to fight cases which they would not have bothered to fight in the past. 

We are definitely seeing more enquiries, are completing more proposals, attending more beauty parades and, I am pleased to say, winning new work in the contentious area and this is building on a steady trend we first noticed in the spring. August is often a quiet month, but our project managers and lawyers assisting clients are as busy as they have been for some time as I discovered only today when I tried to talk to one of them about recent litigation experiences only to be told “ I am far too busy for that!” (It was said nicely and with a smile so I took no offence!)

Just to prove the metaphor, The Lawyer, in an article uncannily entitled “The race is on” reports that firms in the magic circle as well as those in the chasing pack are anticipating and starting to see an upswing in instructions. 

There appears to be a divergence of opinion, however, about what this may mean for recruitment with some firms saying they will hire as necessary and others saying their lawyers will have to work harder to deal with the increased work from clients. 

What is clear, however, and this comes from talking to lawyers in firms from right across the spectrum, both large and small from one end of the country to the other, is that clients are anxious to ensure that their legal bills over the next 12 months fall or at worst are kept at the same level as previously. There is no green light for large scale spending and we are seeing increasingly that clients are looking to technology as one of the means of keeping the litigation bills in check.

Does this mean a flying start to the autumn? Possibly not but the pace-setters are definitely warming up, if I dare say so!! Congratulations to Usain Bolt!!