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How is the changing UK high street affecting law firms?

How is the changing UK high street affecting law firms?



Almost every day there seems to be another headline about the demise of the high street. In the past few years, several clothing and restaurant chains have gone into administration and, with high street retailers facing high rents, low footfall and the ever-increasing use of online shopping, the future isn't looking promising.

However, the evolving shape of high street shopping is not only changing things for retailers, it’s also creating a stir for law firms. Below are just some of the ways that commercial lawyers in specific practice areas might see their work affected by the monumental changes happening on the high street right now.

Surge in insolvency and restructuring work

Increasingly, struggling retailers are seeking legal advice in the face of financial troubles. Some of this advice might involve insolvency and restructuring plans (eg, how retailers can adapt their products and brands to the wants and needs of today’s consumers).

Larger, more established retailers will seek to keep up to date with the changing economic climate by staying relevant with younger generations, while smaller companies will need advice on how to manage their finances to bear rising rent costs. When trouble strikes and changes must be made, lawyers will be needed to help consider the legal implications thereof.

Changes in regulations because of increased online shopping

According to a BBC article about the demise of high street sales, consumers now spend £1 of every £5 online. One of the only areas where the high street is thriving is services providers whose work cannot be replicated online (eg, hair stylists and tattooists). However, clothing retailers are suffering as their products are increasingly available online.

In sectors where the public is spending less money in person and more online, this creates more work for law firms, as employment, services and data protection laws will have a greater online context. As the law on certain aspects of high street business (eg, the use of credit cards) is now several years old and possibly outdated, it will need to be updated – in particular as contactless payments and online shopping become more popular.

In the coming years, many retailers will face changes to cybersecurity laws and will require legal advice on how to manage their businesses in an increasingly online and data-driven world.  

Real estate lawyers might have their work cut out

Brands are quickly picking up on the idea that online shopping is the way forward. Earlier this year, Boohoo, a fashion chain, bought Karen Millen and Coast – but only their online platforms. Boohoo doesn’t want to run physical shops for these brands and sees their future as online only. This is an increasing trend and a growing problem in the retail property sector.

In the coming years, real estate lawyers are going to see big shifts in the type of commercial spaces needed by retailers. The trend towards online shopping will require more warehouses than in-store spaces. This will mean that the typical contracts between retail landlords and retailers will change, and lawyers will have their work cut out to help implement these changes.