As legal professionals position themselves to survive the peaks and troughs of an ailing economy, a number of distinct trends have emerged in the legal industry. Most of these trends help law firms and organizations become more efficient, productive and competitive in a global market. Other trends result from changing demographics, attitudes and work styles. Below are ten trends that are transforming the legal industry and law practice.
Recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure make electronically stored information such as e-mails, instant messages, voicemails, e-calendars, graphics and data on handheld devices discoverable in litigation. The discovery of electronically stored information (ESI) is known as electronic discovery.
The explosive growth of ESI has increased the cost and complexity of the e-discovery process and forever changed the face of large-scale, complex litigation. New roles in litigation support, e-discovery and trial technology have emerged to address the electronic realities of a digital age.
For the first time in the nation’s history, four generations are working side by side in the workplace: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y. As attorneys, paralegals and other legal professionals work beyond retirement age, many law firms and legal departments are trying to balance a generation gap of more than 50 years between the oldest and youngest employees. Four generations working together in the same work environment present new workforce dynamics and challenges. Moreover, the pending exodus of nearly 80 million retiring Baby Boomers and the entry of Generation Z (born between 1991 and 2012) will continue to change workplace dynamics.
Social networking has the potential to transform the business and practice of law in the coming years. Legal professionals have a growing number of social media tools at their disposal to accomplish a variety of legal tasks and career objectives. Social networking is changing how legal 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 also key marketing tools, helping lawyers and legal professionals reach a broad audience and accomplish branding, advertising and client development goals.
In recent years, the legal industry has experienced a global paradigm shift in the delivery model for legal services. This new model, known as legal process outsourcing (LPO), transfers the work of attorneys, paralegals and other legal professionals to external vendors located domestically and overseas. Legal outsourcing, both onshore and offshore, is transforming law practice as law firms and corporate legal departments seek to minimize costs, increase flexibility and expand their in-house capabilities.
An ailing economy, billable hour quotas and a competitive global market for legal services have driven many law firms into overdrive. The pressure to do more with less has forced a growing number of employees to sacrifice their personal life in order to work harder and longer. As recession-related layoffs pile greater workloads upon legal professionals, workers are demanding a better work-life balance. New 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 to one of flexibility.
Domestic law firms are expanding across borders, collaborating with foreign counsel and forming intercontinental mergers, erasing traditional boundaries on the geographic scope of law practice. Although globalization is not new, it is gaining momentum due to the growth of the Internet, the automation of legal processes, developments in data security and emerging technology tools. As law firms continue to expand their footprint worldwide, globalization will continue to reshape the landscape of the legal industry in the coming years.
As going green becomes a global priority, green law initiatives are impacting the business and practice of law. In response to global warming, economic pressure and eco-conscious clients, law firms and legal professionals across the globe are establishing green initiatives that cut expenses, reduce their carbon footprint and promote social responsibility. Environmental law or "green law" is a growing practice area and many firms are establishing niche sub-practices in fair trade, organics, renewable energy, green building and climate change.
Powerful mobile devices, software-as-a service, and secure, web-based technology allow legal professionals to work from virtually anywhere. As a result, more legal professionals are working remotely from home or a virtual law office. Virtual law offices provide an alternative method of practicing law that permit flexible work hours and foster a better work/life balance for legal professionals. Virtual work is not just for lawyers – a growing number of legal professionals are working remotely. Working virtually allows legal professionals to serve their employers and clients while maintaining a better work/life balance and modifying their schedule to fit personal and family needs.
Lawyers no longer have a monopoly on the law. The legal marketplace is changing and clients can seek legal assistance from a growing number of non-lawyer professionals including paralegal technicians, legal document preparers, legal self-help sites, virtual assistants and offshore legal vendors. These new options enable help bring affordable legal services to disadvantaged populations and empower citizens to address their own legal matters. As the cost of legal services continues to rise, new legal delivery models will continue to emerge and gain momentum in the coming years.
10. Alternative Billing Models
Pressure to reign in legal costs have forced law firms to diverge from the traditional billable-hours model - a century-old staple of the legal industry that has been criticized for rewarding inefficiency - in favor of new alternative billing models such as fixed, flat, blended or capped fees. In fact, a new law department metrics survey reports that 72.8 percent of fees paid to outside counsel in 2009 were based on billing arrangements other than standard hourly rates or the billable hour. In order to foster long-term relationships and maximize value, more law firms are embracing alternative billing as a way to meet the needs of cost-conscious clients.