Simon Slater, Chief Executive Officer of Pemberton Greenish LLP, recently chaired this year's Legal Practice Management Conference. Below are some of his thoughts from the day.

I was privileged to chair this year’s Legal Practice Management conference held in London on 6th February.

The conference offered a comprehensive programme, combined with an extensive posse of thought-provoking speakers, and attracted an audience of more than 120 delegates. Leaders and senior managers of law firms ranging from £2m to £20m+ of revenues gathered to share their experiences and learn how to transform their practices into the legal businesses of tomorrow.

Several polls were taken during the day using Slido. The most compelling of our findings was that 92% of the SME law firms present felt optimistic about the future- 34% felt very optimistic. This is starkly at odds with the verdict recently delivered by PwC in its annual law firm survey, namely that they fear for the future of SME law firms. Why? Because of their lack of scale and their inability (or willingness) to invest adequately in technology and people to sustain their businesses.

Even if we accept that the firms represented at the conference were among the more enlightened practices, this is still a significant vote of confidence in the future. And perhaps this is even more surprising when we look at the answer to a subsequent poll. Delegates were asked to rate the challenges they face over the next two years. 46% said that they thought the challenges ahead were more serious than in the past whilst another 42% said that the challenges ahead were of the same magnitude as in recent times.

So, what are these challenges?

This is not a comprehensive list; nevertheless, it represents a packed agenda for firms of any size, let alone one with limited resources and bandwidth:

  • the partnership model and whether it is fit for purpose;
  • how best to fund investment;
  • the increasing competition for good people;
  • new routes to qualification;
  • flexible resourcing and agile working practices;
  • how to resource tomorrow’s firm;
  • developing the ‘lawyer’ of the future;
  • the emergence of legal technologists;
  • the importance of data analytics, process automation and artificial intelligence;
  • the ‘Millennials’ and ‘Generation Z’ – how to engage them and manage their careers;
  • the importance to them of purpose and meaning in their working lives;
  • the ever increasing need to deliver excellent customer service, especially in a digital world;
  • the need for greater pricing transparency;
  • fostering the right culture to embrace change;
  • succession planning;
  • managing compliance and cyber security;
  • knowing whether to be ‘niche’; and
  • the increasing influence of other business professionals in leading and managing firms.

Despite these challenges, the outlook for the future of SME law firms was still positive.