"The issue is not so much that a bot will take the place of a lawyer, it is that whether a law firm is ready to change as fast as the clients do" TATYANA GAVRYSH, MANAGING PARTNER AT ILF LAW FIRM EMPHASIZES
— Is the Ukrainian legal market, in its current state, a market for clients or a market of service providers? Who sets the trend for development?
— Oligarchic groups influence the majority of political and social processes in the state, their influence on the legal market should not be excluded either. It becomes apparent if we analyze national ratings over the past 15 years. We have an unchanged pool of Ukrainian companies building a reputational and classical legal business. Many of them stood at the origins of the Ukrainian Bar Association, which was conceived as a tool of fair market regulation. The weight of international companies has always depended on political fluctuations, the foreign policy vector and investment climate. Unfortunately, they were not critical for transformation of the Ukrainian legal market, traditionally "eating their slice of the cake." And there is a large segment of companies entering the market at the moment, when the political environment is changing, which hardly ever survive its decline. And there is virtually a gulf between this market and that one where the client rules. But evolutionary changes have already begun, and they will continue. Currently, the state experiences serious institutional changes, adjacent markets, which are least of all affected by political leverage, develop rapidly, in particular, creative area and IT. The open market operates under other rules, driven by technological progress and behavioral economics. One can notice that law firms give attention to the first factor – there is a boom in legal tech projects. It is an investment project and a new product for some, a tool to improve the efficiency of their own business processes for others, and just PR for certain others. We all understand that in due course a section of legal services will be available for the Ukrainian client in digital format and will not require a personal commitment of a lawyer. The issue is not so much that a bot will take the place of a lawyer, it is that whether a law firm is ready to change as fast as the clients and their needs do. The market development trend is determined by the client, and the services of law firms will head towards custom products for a specific customer.
— Have there been any changes in the approaches to the positioning of the law firms, strategy, and tactics of clients’ attraction and standards of services provision?
— In some degree. There is a demand for the creative component and marketing in the market. Reputation is still the basic stock, but everyone works with it in a different way. Talking about the strategy of clients’ attraction is harder. In general, legal business does not talk about business.
The situation in the adjacent markets is different. Mature companies work in the co-authorship format, i.e. they design a product for the client together. But the legal market is not there yet, the companies keep compete with each other, sometimes, missing common profit. The client, on his part, feels this hostile and not the creative environment, when the companies use aggressive methods in their fight for the client, including damping and improper conduct. In doing so, they not only depreciate their services, but move the bar of attraction and service of clients downwards. I have a feeling that in these terms the market is currently below the boundary of 2002. Then, the issue was much more urgent for the main players setting trends.
— What legal product meets a ready market?
— Let us once again return to the legal market as a mirror of society and social and political sentiments. The majority of entrepreneurs do not plan any projects for three years since the highest demand is for that which hurts or burns. That is the protection of assets, protection of personal safety and business. Last year there was also demand for business and investment projects scaling and their share increased by 30%. But this is a time-limited demand, which in one way or another is connected with the aforementioned conditions.
I can separately highlight the need to increase the efficiency of use of state-owned and municipal assets. The open market and foreign policy encourage our state to carry out evolutionary changes. Instead of being a passive administrator, it becomes a manager and should also meet the needs of the client. Decentralization, for example, to a large extent resulted in alterations to the rules of the game, bringing the communities as more independent and motivated players in this market. They will have to solve the issue of efficiency of such assets, attraction of investors and donors, restructuring of municipal business. These changes have already come close to the market of medical services where the issue of competition and efficiency was replaced with corruption opportunities provided by budgetary financing without transparent control. Whether lawyers are ready for such changes is an interesting question. Being deep enough in the process of a wide range of institutional reforms, we, unfortunately, can hardly can observe the professional passion of our colleagues.
— Is there a universal recipe to tune up business processes?
— We all want to receive a magic pill, but it does not exist. This is a painstaking and routine work in the fight for customer satisfaction and business efficiency. For 23 years, ILF has virtually not left the process of change management. On average, key reboots take place once every three years. Currently, we are completing the rebranding process. It has lasted for almost one year and a half years. We reflected on the change in the business model and we came to the startup ideology. This means that we do not offer for sale a product that was acquired within years of expertise like in the industrial age, but constantly adjust to a client's needs and change our product.
Recipes for business process adjustment are available: business training and non-fiction can help us. But there are three critical factors for any change. The first one is the goal, the second one is the team and the third one the sequence of actions. There will always be a temptation to do like it was and the more substantial the changes are, the bigger such temptation will be.
— Is the partnership institution evolving? What kind of structure of a law firm is optimal in the current market situation?
— Everything depends on the development strategy of a specific company and the partnership format. I believe that a partner is a person who shares both values and risks, benefits and responsibility with you. The partner is also an entrepreneur who has ambitious goals, achieves them and stays strong in the pursuit of goals.
In terms of organizational structure, we move from the hierarchical structure to a flatter one. The role of partners and lawyers in this structure is changing. We are not talking about holacracy (a self-management practice) or agile approaches, but rather about more flexible and efficient bureaucracy.
— When may a law firm need rebranding? What tasks does it solve?
— As lawyers say, it is important to be defined in terms. Sometimes, rebranding is part of anti-crisis communication and work with reputation. But in actual substance, it is still a change in the way of thinking and not a change of facade or update of a corporate style. The goal of our rebranding is to help the client make a choice and find his identity on the market. We conducted research together with Aimbulance, the strategic marketing agency, and found out that clients do not understand our market. Moreover, applying to a lawyer is painful for him. We all look alike for him, as does the value of our services. Let’s take a cursory glance at the websites of law firms or stop any company lawyer in the office corridor and ask, for example, what his/her company does, what is the difference between them and other companies? Diversity and the abstract nature of answers about "efficient masters of their crafts, personal approach and guaranteed result" can be striking. And, certainly, efficient HR and marketing business processes in a company are important, but self-identification is even more important: who we are and what result are we responsible for to our client. Brand is a promise and it shall be fulfilled. If a team that works daily for the client does not understand what we are doing and why, how will the client understand and appreciate it? And it is not about the search for a unique competitive advantage. There is just something you do differently and this is your lifestyle. Be honest professionally, be yourself and your client will find you.