The 3,000 plus leading lawyers from around the
world who will be travelling to Madrid for the annual
International Bar Association (IBA) conference this
autumn will encounter a city undergoing change as
its infrastructure is being renovated as part of an
economic stimulus plan. The legal sector may need to
do the same.
Exactly two years since Iberian Lawyer's cover
page led on the economic crisis ('Stormy Weather
Ahead'), these visitors will now encounter a legal
profession that is increasingly confident that it can
overcome the short-term difficulties of the global
financial crisis and related economic downturn, but is
unsure about the future changes required.
It is true that Iberian law firms have suffered less
than their peers in other countries. Helped by being
less specialised, more flexible and closer to their
clients than many larger Anglo-Saxon firms, Spanish
and Portuguese lawyers are nevertheless taking
appropriate action; cutting costs, moving lawyers
between disciplines and making selected, and
discreet, redundancies. Some say these changes were
long overdue and only stimulated by the slowdown
in transactional activity.
Despite a feeling of being glad to be alive – which a
serious illness would bring out in most of us – the
longer-term good health of the patient is less certain.
Clients are making fundamental changes in the way
they manage their internal and external legal advice –
manifested by downward pressure on fees and hours
worked by law firms. Some predict that over the
coming years many of the sacred cows of the
profession will have to change – ranging from issues
of ownership and decision-making to developing and
sharing know-how jointly with clients.
In this issue, Chris Barnard, General Counsel,
Coca-Cola Europe, suggests one step further: clients
will participate in collaborative arrangements to
commission external legal services jointly and then
share and recycle them.
Technology will play an increasingly important
role going forward, he argues, a topic which General
Counsel and law firm Managing Partners will debate
at the first Iberian Legal Summit which Iberian
Lawyer will be hosting in Lisbon as part of the '40
under Forty' awards to be held on September 24th.
The elite of the legal profession will have much to
talk about at the IBA conference. They will be pleased
that they have survived the economic crisis but keen
to debate whether the patient will make a full
recovery or needs follow up surgery.
Is there a doctor in the house?