The legal industry, like most areas of business, is undergoing dramatic change these days. As a practicing attorney, you should be aware of the latest legal trends. To that end, here are seven of the most significant legal trends that should be on your radar.
Although attorney employment is expected to grow by 10% by 2020, the short-term situation for new lawyers isn’t as optimistic. More students are graduating from law schools than there are jobs available. In 2011, 85% of grads found employment. In 2012, that fell to 63%. Some argue that this situation is a looming crisis that needs to be immediately addressed by our profession, in part by reforming legal education, as we discussed in this earlier blog post.
Increasingly, firms are moving from local and domestic focus to becoming more global practices. Aided by the growth of the Internet, the automation of the legal process, developments in data security, and improvements in technology tools, more firms are branching out and merging with foreign organizations to service worldwide clients. In a previous post, we suggested that, oddly enough, our profession can learn lessons about globalization from “The Real Housewives” franchise.
Legal Service Alternatives
Increasingly, lawyers are facing competition not only from other law firms, but also from alternative entities providing legal services. They include offshore legal vendors, online legal self-help sites, and legal document preparers. In other words, lawyers need to pivot or pay the price, as discussed more fully in this earlier post from our blog.
The growth of mobile devices and the increase in secure web-based technologies like legal practice management software has allowed many lawyers to establish “virtual practices.” With the ability to connect from anywhere thanks to these tools, more lawyers are working remotely from home. This flexibility can provide a better work/life balance for many attorneys and, as we’ve discussed in the past, can also reduce costs, thus giving lawyers more options when hanging a shingle than ever before.
Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO)
The 1990’s saw a rise in the concept of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) where businesses outsourced their back room accounting and IT functions to dedicated BPO companies. The law industry is now seeing a similar trend in Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) where firms are looking to minimize costs, increase flexibility, and expand capabilities by outsourcing certain legal functions, and, as we discuss in this post, cloud-based law practice management systems are one of the best ways to easily facilitate legal outsourcing.
There is a growing move toward specialized “boutique” firms that focus on one specific area of the law, such as international, intellectual property, patents, divorce, or personal injury. This allows firms to market themselves more narrowly and establish themselves as the niche “expert” in their geographic area.
Growth of Industrial Caseloads
The types of cases growing the fastest in 2013 involve business. Anti-trust, white-collar crime and trade secret violations all surged in 2012 and are expected to continue to grow in 2013.
Many of the legal trends listed above have resulted in significant benefits for various law firms, including lower costs, expanded talent bases (particularly useful for smaller firms that need to fill competency gaps), faster turnaround for clients, and more resources and support for smaller law firms. Understanding these trends, how they affect you, and taking action where appropriate can be the key to enhancing your practice.