What Can Lawyers Expect in 2014?

A modern ouija board plus planchette

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So now that’s it’s 2014, what’s on the horizon for lawyers? Will the practice of law remain stagnant or will this year mark the beginning of a wave of unprecedented change in the legal profession, with globalization, new technologies, and increased competition leveling the playing field and encouraging innovation in the practice of law?

Well not surprisingly, as 2013 drew to a close, a number of lawyers and legal professionals offered their views on what 2014 will look like for the legal profession. Each provided a view of the future through their own unique lens and their combined predictions give us an insightful and thought provoking perspective on the future of our profession.

The future of BigLaw

Ron Friedmann offered his take on 2014 and BigLaw at Prism Legal, predicting that large law firms will continue to embrace change at a snail’s pace. According to Ron, the “slow change” trend will be particularly evident in the areas of client service and technology:

To date, few law firms have grabbed the opportunity to dramatically differentiate by improving overall service delivery and advertising that improvement. So I expect we will see the trend toward slow adoption of legal project management and more sophisticated pricing continue…

I expect large firm CIOs will continue their focus on running infrastructure, upgrading core systems, trying to ensure security, assessing cloud options, rolling out SharePoint 2013, and supporting mobile devices. With all that, we cannot expect any break-out technology from law firms in 2014.

As is usually the case, I think Ron’s assessment is spot on when it comes to BigLaw. Large firms lack the ability to pivot and change as market needs require it. For that reason, innovation and change will be left to smaller, more nimble boutique firms and solos.

Predictions from across the Pond

Next up, Brian Inkster of The Time Blawg offers his uniquely Scottish view on the future of legal IT and law practice. He addresses a wide array of topics, including social media, blawging, video, and legal documentation online. Of the four, he concludes that only social media use amongst lawyers will rise substantially in 2014.

His predictions about cloud computing and mobile were particularly interesting and, in my opinion, right on target. He had this to say about cloud computing:

After some initial resistance lawyers now appear to be accepting the benefits of cloud computing. I have not heard the excuses for not adopting it in 2013 that I did in previous years. More lawyers are definitely taking it up as they upgrade their IT systems and this trend will continue in 2014 and beyond. In a few years it will be ubiquitous and will no longer feature in annual predictions. Indeed it may well get scored out by me as a topic in 2015.

As for mobile, he astutely noted that content consumption, not creation, lead the way:

Whilst the use of smartphones and tablets will continue to rise amongst lawyers I do believe that often these devices are best for consuming information rather than producing documentation.

Predictions about web-based technologies

Every year, Steve Matthews offers his predictions about the future of web-based technologies and their effect on the legal profession over at the ever-popular Canadian blog, Slaw. This year was no exception.

In addition to predicting, among other things, that the emergence of biometric authentication would increase, as would the use of online lawyer directories as price comparison tools, Steve also opined on that web-based tools would be used more frequently to provide better client service.

According to Steve, the use of online portals to communicate with clients will increase dramatically:

2014 will be the year we see a more “human touch” in business support services. SMEs and virtual law firms will succeed in large part by being accessible. Perhaps a little less Google in their approach, and a little more Zappos. Want to talk to a real person? Firms will engage the web in ways that help client communication, not put up barriers.

Compilations of predictions

For two different compilations of predictions, make sure to check out this post from the Lexis Nexis Make More Rain Blog, in which 21 experts offer their predictions for the legal industry as a whole, and David Bilinsky’s compilation on his blog, Thoughtful Legal Management, where there are 16 sets of predictions about the future of the legal profession.

And finally, anyone who reads my writings knows that I think we’ve been in the midst of radical change for quite a few years now, and as I discuss here, I’m convinced that this year will be the tipping point in many ways, not the least of which will be lawyers embracing cloud computing.

What do you think?

So there you have it–predictions about the future of our profession from experts across the globe. But what about you? What do you think? Are the predictions above spot on or way off base? What does 2014 hold for the legal profession? Let us know in the comments!

–Nicole Black