For some 20 years, delegates in the QLS Practice Management Course (PMC) have been asked what is driving them to be owners or co-owners in law firms.
And for 20 years two themes have dominated without exception – money and control.
In large practices money typically is first, but control (or related concept) a close second. For sole practitioners, control absolutely dominates – but without underestimating the importance of money.
Until this year…
In the most recent smaller practices PMC, 18 out of a group of 38 said that their driving reason for wanting to own a practice was flexibility. That is, as owners, they could unilaterally determine how, where and when they practised – far beyond the kind of flexibility available as employees. So in the space of just one year, flexibility has gone from below the radar to the dominant driver.
Internationally, Australian practices are relatively small – that is, high numbers of firms relative to total practitioners – which seems to be driven by a fierce Australian drive for independence.
All of these 18 delegates were going down the microfirm path – where their office was substantially virtual, with no rentals, no support staff, and the assistance of a fair amount of desktop technology, which in the current scheme of things is now quite normal and unremarkable. There are really only two generic forms of business risk – missing the boat and sinking the boat, and microfirms have substantially eliminated sinking the boat risk.
This is not a random observation. At Symposium in March this year, 20 people in a group of around 90 in the practice management session declared that they operated on some variant of a microfirm.
And just think back – a popular discourse in the mid-’90s was whether there was a future for sole practices at all!
Coincidentally, where in recent years the dominant themes in the ALPMA Practice Innovation Awards have been around fixed pricing and technology-enabled solutions, this year saw a wave of entrants focused on employee (and partner) flexibility – including the eventual winner and another finalist.
So the scene is set. And this is just the beginning. Firms wanting to retain their best talent can no longer assume all employees are the same – that is, they all want to be partners and will wait indefinitely for the opportunity.
A growing number are wanting a workable combination of flexibility but combined with reasonable money. They can achieve this in one of three ways – get it from their current employer; get if from an alternative employer; or simply jump ship and be up and running in a very low-cost, independent business in no time at all.
This scenario will only become more pronounced. The choice for all traditional firms is whether they want to deal with it as an opportunity or a threat.
Published: Queensland Law Society – Proctor – November, 2016