Keynote speakers at the Small Firms Division’s annual conference are usually solicitors or people who support them – other professionals, business coaches and the like.
What, then, can a legal commentator offer?
Readers may not know that, as well as being a sole practitioner in the dark arts of journalism, I am a non-practising solicitor myself: hanging on the wall at home is an admission certificate that Lord Denning MR signed in 1976, although there has never been a practising certificate alongside it.
From this, you may infer that I was once a solicitor’s articled clerk, as trainees were then called.
The firm I worked for taught me quite a bit about office technology: we still used gas lamps when necessary and the incandescent mantles were quite difficult to replace.
I also learned some valuable litigation skills, which I put to use when I sued the firm for negligence – though we settled on mutually acceptable terms.
Above all, it taught me that solicitors were regarded, in those far-off days, as trusted business advisers.
Much more than lawyers, not quite personal friends, they were the people you went to see when you were planning to do something important in your life and you wanted wise counsel from someone who, you hoped, had seen it all before.
That tradition has, to some extent, been lost by solicitors practising in small firms. I hope to suggest ways in which it be may retrieved.
At the same time, though, solicitors must look to the future.
I was surprised to see that not all firms had complied with rules introduced last year by the Solicitors Regulation Authority last year that require them to publish information about prices and services on their websites.
That applies only if they have websites, of course, but I cannot think of any reason why a practising solicitor would not.
More than one website can attract even more business, as I shall demonstrate with an example from another jurisdiction.
Much of this depends on ‘unbundling’ legal services. I plan to explain how solicitors can take advantage of online courts and other do-it-yourself services.
And, of course, there are to be major regulatory changes in November.
If you view these as the last straw – yet another change to come to terms with and perhaps even the end of solicitors as a learned profession – then it may be time to think about retirement.
But if you see the reforms as an opportunity, a chance to work flexibly and with less red tape, then the future is yours for the taking.
When I tell people I’m a legal journalist, they usually ask where I work.
‘I’m a freelance,’ I tell them. If they are barristers, I’m often able to add ‘just like you’. By the end of this year, I can expect to hear the same reply from solicitors.
It’s an exciting prospect. I might even apply for a practising certificate.
Joshua Rozenberg QC (Hon)will give the keynote speech at this year’s Small Firms Division conference.
Book your place now