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Welcome to a landmark edition of Innovative Lawyers magazine. This is the 10th year of an FT special report that has weighed and ranked the work of European legal organisations during a time of great change in the industry.
In the run-up to our first report, many in and outside the profession said innovating was not what lawyers did. In 2006 just two leading legal firms expressly cited innovation as a value on their websites. Now almost all do. And the growth of the series of FT reports, now with three separate regional editions, shows how firms around the world have embraced innovation.
The work of lawyers was transformed by the global economic crisis in 2008. They were called on to steady businesses and governments, especially as bankers came under increasing suspicion. That work is still going on but stronger regulation in the wake of the crisis is also forcing more compliance work upon companies around the world — and they are turning to lawyers for help.
The increasing tempo of change has been felt in the structures of legal organisations. Mergers across continents have become widespread in the past decade and several firms have moved close to being truly global entities. And any list of the elite of the profession has to include some US firms that have made substantial inroads into the European market.
In the UK, the Legal Services Act 2007, liberalising some areas of the profession, has had a much greater effect than many lawyers expected when it was first mooted. Many firms have taken advantage of the legislation to hire non-lawyers into the partnership, and to set up other types of business. Ten years ago, few firms thought they would outsource work. Now nearly all the top firms have an offshore or low-cost centre. In the rest of Europe, too, a number of firms look radically different from a decade ago and, by embracing the concept of continuous change, have been featured regularly in the report’s rankings over the years.
Technology is another consistently growing theme of the FT Innovative Lawyers reports. Firms have gone from outright scepticism to embracing technology that can deliver much greater value to clients. If we look ahead to the profession in another 10 years’ time, many firms might well be using artificial intelligence to power some of their legal advice. This may reduce the size of legal organisations — but it might also place the focus even more closely on the tailored, innovative advice that the best lawyers have built an expertise in providing.