Sheffield law firm boss warns that legal sector is battling to survive pandemic

One of the North’s leading law firms has warned that the legal sector faces a steep uphill battle to survive the ongoing pandemic amid discussions over a second lockdown in the region.

Wednesday, 14th October 2020, 9:22 pm

Jeremy Brooke, CEO of Sheffield-based legal firm, SSB Law, warned that the ongoing challenges faced by the legal sector are driving smaller, family run firms out of business, and forcing a shift in the modernisation of the field that many are not accustomed to.

The caution follows research from The Bar Council which revealed nearly three-quarters (71 per cent) of firms with four partners or fewer said cash-flow pressures and lower fee income could put them out of business this autumn, as a result of fewer arrests and prosecutions.

In addition, eight in 10 (84 per cent) of chambers said that they saw income reduce by more than 40 per cent during the first lockdown, while the fee income for self-employed barristers reduced by 59 per cent.

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Further predictions forecast that more than 5,000 firms will cease to trade this year as a direct result of the pandemic, a figure Brooke suggests could increase if a second lockdown is imposed.

SSB Law, part of The SSB Group, has hired more than 60 staff during the pandemic and remains on course for 170 per cent growth this year, but has seen the quantity of cases it handles fall.

“The legal sector is in freefall, and for the firms who haven’t modernised in the past few years, it is taking its toll,” said Brooke.

“At SSB, we’ve been lucky. We’ve had flexible working for years, our computer systems were set up to enable the whole company to digitally access cases, but even then it has been hard and we’ve had to quickly adapt.”“For the traditional firms, who still work pen to paper, who haven’t moved to digital systems or who rely on low-profit cases such as wills and probate, I just can’t see how they will come through this.”

Brooke also acknowledges employees in the sector have been hit hard, backing research which found more than 50 per cent of barristers fear for their future in the profession.

“We have employed at a period when many other organisations in our sector are unable to,” continued Brooke, “but there are still hundreds on furlough with no certainty of a role to go back to, and students who were lined up for roles which have now been withdrawn.

“We want to hire and we’re ready to hire but we recognise that following this pandemic,it will be all levels that will need support, not just those coming out of college or university.”

He continued: “A second lockdown will mean almost certain administration for many firms, and I predict we will see hundreds of experienced, senior professionals out of work come the end of the year. It’s devastating.”

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