Trends That Are Reshaping the Legal Industry
Law Industry Trends
A number of distinct trends have emerged in the legal industry as professionals position themselves to survive the peaks and troughs of the economy. Most of these trends help law firms and organizations become more efficient, productive, and competitive in a global market. Others result from changing demographics, attitudes, and work styles.
Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have made electronically stored information discoverable in litigation, including e-mails, instant messages, voicemails, e-calendars, graphics, and data on handheld devices. The discovery of electronically stored information (ESI) is referred to as electronic discovery.
The explosive growth of ESI has increased the cost and complexity of the e-discovery process, and it's changed the face of large-scale, complex litigation. Roles in litigation support, e-discovery, and trial technology have emerged to address the electronic realities of a digital age.
The Multi-Generational Workforce
Four generations are working side by side for the first time in the nation’s history: traditionalists, baby boomers, generation X, and generation Y. Many law firms and legal departments are trying to balance a generation gap of more than 50 years between their oldest and youngest employees as attorneys, paralegals, and other professionals work beyond retirement age.
Four generations working together in the same environment creates different dynamics and challenges. The pending exodus of nearly 80 million retiring baby boomers and the entry of Generation Z—those born in 1997 or later—will continue to change law firms and offices.
Social networking has transformed the practice of law. Legal professionals have a growing number of social media tools at their disposal to accomplish a variety of tasks and career objectives.
Social networking is changing how attorneys and other professionals recruit, job hunt, network, locate and discredit witnesses, manage their careers, and interact with clients. Social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are all key marketing tools, helping lawyers and legal professionals reach broad audiences and accomplish branding, advertising, and client development goals.
Legal Process Outsourcing
The industry has experienced a global paradigm shift in the delivery model for legal services. This model, known as legal process outsourcing (LPO), transfers the work of attorneys, paralegals, and support professionals to external vendors located domestically and overseas.
Outsourcing, both onshore and offshore, is transforming law practices as firms and corporate legal departments seek to minimize costs, increase flexibility, and expand their in-house capabilities.
Billable hour quotas and a competitive global market for services have put many law firms into overdrive. The pressure to do more with less has forced a growing number of employees to sacrifice their personal lives so they can work harder and longer.
But workers are demanding a better work-life balance at the same time. Workplace policies such as flex-time, telecommuting, part-time work, phased retirement, temporary leave, compressed schedules, and other alternative work arrangements are transforming the law firm environment from sweatshop into one of flexibility.
Domestic law firms are expanding across borders, collaborating with foreign counsel, forming intercontinental mergers, and erasing traditional boundaries on the geographic scope of law practice.
Globalization is nothing new, but it's gaining momentum along with the growth of the internet, emerging technology tools, the automation of processes, and developments in data security. It continues to reshape the landscape of the industry as law firms continue to expand their footprints worldwide.
Green law initiatives are impacting the practice of law as "going green" becomes a global priority. Between economic pressure and eco-conscious clients, law firms and professionals across the globe are establishing green initiatives that cut expenses, reduce their carbon footprint, and promote social responsibility in response to global warming.
Environmental law or "green law" is a growing practice area.
Virtual Law Firms
Powerful mobile devices, software-as-a-service, and secure, web-based technology allow professionals to work from virtually anywhere. More professionals are working remotely from home or virtual law offices as a result.
Virtual law offices permit flexible work hours and foster a better work/life balance for legal professionals. And virtual work is not just for lawyers. A growing number are working remotely.
This allows professionals to serve their employers and clients while maintaining a better work/life balance and modifying their schedules to fit in personal and family needs.
Alternative Legal Service Delivery Models
Lawyers no longer have a monopoly on the law. Clients can seek legal assistance from a growing number of non-lawyer professionals, including paralegal technicians, jury consultants, legal document preparers, self-help sites, virtual assistants, and offshore vendors.
These options bring affordable services to disadvantaged populations, and they empower citizens to address their own legal matters. Delivery models continue to emerge and gain momentum as the cost of services continues to rise.
Alternative Billing Models
Pressure to reign in costs has forced law firms to diverge from the traditional billable-hours model—a century-old staple of the industry that has been criticized for rewarding inefficiency—in favor of alternative billing models such as fixed, flat, blended, or capped fees.
More law firms are embracing alternative billing as a way to meet the needs of cost-conscious clients, foster long-term relationships, and maximize value.
Changes for Solo Practitioners
Adapting to all this can be difficult for solo practitioners and very small practices, and many have launched into niche practices in an effort to meet the challenge. From digital media and cyber security issues to legalized marijuana and more traditional areas like custody or bankruptcy, a number of these one- and two-lawyer firms are focusing on one specific area of law and establishing a reputation as the best help available for problems in that niche.