A new year for the legal sector

2010 was a 'miserable' year for the legal sector. Jon Beaumont, Head of KM at law firm Harvey Ingram looks forward to the new year.

Arguably, the distinct lack of New Year revellers in the establishments I frequented last week were an illustration of most people's thoughts regarding 2010. The majority were probably glad to see the back of what, in the most, has been a fairly miserable year in the legal sector.

Support teams as easy targets

We were incorrect in believing that the vast amount of redundancies and cost-cutting measures for law firms (and in particular Information Teams) encountered in 2009 had come to an end, with several firms continuing to reduce roles throughout the year. One firm even held their fourth round of consultations for redundancy recently. Support departments within law firms in such scenarios are often seen as an ‘easy target' regarding staffing and budgets generally. This is despite the fact that a lesser number of people are often asked to undertake the same amount of work and publishers are never usually keen to provide the same electronic or hardcopy resources at a reduced price.

So, what for 2011?

I have heard that some organisations consider redundancies to have been a positive move, removing ‘dead wood' and leading to a more streamlined and dynamic organisation. It is certainly the case that law firms appear to have finally realised the importance of knowledge management (KM) and the use of KM-related tools, such as those provided as part of Web 2.0. These areas will surely continue to be increasingly integrated into the day-to-day work of lawyers and Information Departments over the next 12 months.

The effects of the Legal Services Act may well be felt throughout the year and the changes that this will bring as regards size, ownership and management of law firms will certainly have a knock on effect within my department. The so-called ‘Tesco Law' will open up the legal market and nobody can yet be sure of its impact.

Last year, many Information Professionals in the sector began to fully understand the threats and opportunities provided by the possible outsourcing of their teams. Only time will tell whether this process can be successful over the forthcoming months/years, but it will be necessary to remain informed on the subject, rather than holding the misguided belief that this will have no effect whatsoever on our work.

Finally, there have been a number of new tools, products and methods of providing information that have been released by legal publishers recently, with seemingly large changes to follow. From a workflow perspective, these developments have been excellent. However, with regard to these and all other online and hardcopy information, when will providers realise that severe price increases are simply unjustifiable? This must undoubtedly be the case in the current economic climate.

Jon Beaumont is Head of Knowledge Management at UK law firm Harvey Ingram.  The team at Harvey Ingram recently won the Best Legal Information Services (Commercial Sector) at BIALL's Halsbury's Awards.

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