Looking to the future: identifying the drivers of change
3.5 In a recent and valuable scenario building exercise, the Law Society (2012b) has identified four future scenarios (Table 3.1). The scenarios, which also draw on the earlier Law of the Future scenario planning exercise undertaken by the Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law (HiiL)(2011), are not predictions but attempts to identify plausible futures. Focusing on a range of drivers for change that are likely to have high impact and also high uncertainty in terms of possible outcomes, the developers of the scenarios identified a cluster of factors based around global and domestic economic and business performance and purchaser behaviour that were considered key. These were then used to create possible versions of the legal services environment as it might appear in 2025.
Table 3.1: The legal services market in 2025: Law Society scenario overviews
|‘The Law is an App’||
3.6 The four scenarios demonstrate a wide range of possible outcomes for legal services generally and the solicitors’ profession in particular in 2025, outcomes that could easily be extended to the sector at large with relatively minor additions and variations. The four scenarios are built around an axis of high vs low economic growth. Continued low growth for much of the period to 2025 would have radical consequences for the sector as a whole, reducing, perhaps quite substantially, the volume of legal work, increasing competition but also limiting innovation. It is notable that, even if there is a return to pre-2008 levels of growth (or better), none of the scenarios simply predicts a return to pre-2008 ‘normality’, though the ‘Wise Counsel‘ scenario probably comes closest in this respect. It is significant that this is the only one of the three scenarios that sees solicitor-managed enterprises retaining a dominant share of the market. Change in buyer behaviour is also an important external variable. The scenarios distinguish between markets that are dominated by ‘leading’ or ‘receiving’ clients/consumers – the ‘receiving’ concept is closest to the status quo – an environment in which information asymmetry between lawyers and clients remains high, particularly in the private client sphere, and where access may be mediated by knowledgeable intermediaries (eg, the role of in-house counsel). A market shaped by ‘leading’ purchasers, in contrast, will be characterised by more empowered and knowledgeable buyers, who are less inclined to see the purchase of legal services as different from the purchase of other goods and services. There is limited evidence for the latter at present, though regulation and technology, as the scenarios suggest, both have the potential to transform the demand side of the market.
3.7 For present purposes, the immediate value of this analysis lies chiefly with the range of key variables identified. These can be summarised as:
- changes in the global forces shaping international and national markets, politics and civil society;
- the impact of key political, economic and regulatory changes, including market liberalisation strategies and changes to the regulatory and funding environment on the sector;
- consequent technological, role and process innovation within legal services;
- changing behaviour among buyers of legal services, shaped by economic, technological and demographic influences.
3.8 These variables will be used to inform discussion in the next sections of this chapter, and to consider how such environmental factors might shape not just the legal services sector, but the LSET system on which it draws.
 The process of scenario development is described more fully in Law Society (2012c).