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Looking Back: The legal industry over 15 years

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18 Jul 2017
The legal industry is constantly changing, and even a relatively short space of time can make an immeasurable difference on the way the sector develops. Whether concerning the type of high profile cases that are dealt with, the way the businesses that make up the industry operate or significant events taking place across the globe, it is safe to say that this is an industry that needs to adapt alongside wider society. 

This year, Sellick Partnership celebrates its 15th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, we are setting the clock back to 2002 to explore the legal landscape of the time compared to that of today. 

Examining wider threats 

The early 2000s is strongly associated with a time of widespread fears over international security and the perceived growing threat of terrorism. In 2000, the introduction of the Terrorism Act was followed with the launch of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act that was rushed through following the tragic events of 9/11. 

Its impact on the legal industry was clear, with the controversial Section 41 of the Act giving police the powers to arrest and detain without charge for 48 hours (the figure now stands at 28 days). New stop and search laws were also rolled out, allowing officers to do so without reasonable suspicion of terror offences. This was overturned by the European Court of Human Rights in 2010, however, its introduction gave a clear indicator of the general feeling at the time, as well as the impact of the high number of arrests on criminal solicitors. 

Feelings of panic over the threat of terrorism in the UK have increased significantly in 2017, following attacks in both London and Manchester. As a result, Home Office statistics show that arrests relating to terrorism have increased to 304 in the 12 months to March 2017, the highest level since figures began in 2001. 

Technology takes centre stage 

The early 2000s represented a key period of development for the practice of law, thanks in large part to the increasingly widespread adoption of technology. During this key time, the use of the internet and mobile phones was growing at a significant rate, and these changes had a pivotal impact on the way businesses work and communicate. 

In the late 1990s, fears over the so-called “millennium bug” had reached their peak, and widespread panic ensued. While the fallout from the anticipated computer glitch was minimal, a shift in the widespread use of devices including computers became clear. Now, businesses and homes alike started to utilise these devices more than ever before, meaning fears of cyber crime began to build. 

These growing fears led to the introduction of the Office for Communications as the new industry regulator for telecommunications in 2003, which has significant ramifications for the legal industry and opened the media up to potential implications from the public and beyond if the content they pushed out was deemed to be offensive. 

In later years, the Communications Act would have a key impact on both enterprises and consumers in the UK. Online abuse and trolling incidents that have gained significant media coverage over the past few years have been brought to the courts because of this piece of legislation. 

Use of technology within the legal industry is still having an important impact on the sector as a whole. The legal industry, along with many others, is becoming more tech-focused as the years go by, and lawyers are increasingly expected to be literate when it comes to utilising devices as part of their daily working lives. What’s more, as with other industries across the board, technology is changing ways of working within the legal sector, and businesses are increasingly looking to make dated processes more efficient thanks to the benefits it offers.

Increasing diversity

As with many other industries, the legal sector has received criticism due to a lack of diversity in previous years. However, as time progresses, the situation appears to improving. Data published by the Solicitors Regulation Authority at the end of 2015 revealed women make up 47 percent of lawyers in law firms, while females also make up 76 percent of other members of staff employed by legal firms. While the figures do appear positive, differences become more obvious when seniority is examined, as women make up only 33 percent of partners. 

According to the figures, the difference is more pronounced in larger legal firms, which employ 50 or more partners. The data revealed these businesses have only 27 percent female partners, compared with 35 percent for smaller firms. 

While it is clear that the legal landscape has changed significantly since 2002, there are many areas, including the increasing importance of technology, and the ongoing worries over terrorism, that continue to have a significant impact on the legal industry as a whole. The legal industry does have a number of things in common with other sectors, and the issue of diversity is among the most important. It will be extremely interesting to see whether these issues are still affecting the legal industry in another 15 years. 
For legal roles or to discuss your recruitment needs contact the Sellick Partnership team today on 0161 834 1642.
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