5 Legal Trends You Need to Know -- and Prepare For

Ever wish you had a crystal ball to peer into the future of the legal profession? Fortunately, Robert Half Legal interviews leaders of the top law firms and corporate legal departments on the latest legal trends and publishes this research each year in its Future Law Office report.

So, what’s in store for the legal profession? Most notably, our research shows that clients are driving change for the foreseeable future. They want more accessible, efficient and value-driven legal services. In turn, these requirements are resulting in a transformation of the profession. Read on to learn how law office management will evolve in the next few years.

1. Diversification of legal positions

The law firm of the future will not look like those of old. For one, there will be a greater variety of legal jobs as law firms focus more on flexible teams with legal support roles expanding and non-partners taking on a greater share of the workload. Here are some of the new legal job titles you may see in the near future: apprentice, resident, career associate, practice group attorney, and department attorney.

2. Pushback on billable hours

A key reason non-associate positions are on the rise is because clients are increasingly demanding cost-effective legal services. They also want more control over fees, which is why standard billable hours have to make room for alternative fee arrangements. These include flat fees, contingency fees, negotiated fixed fees, special fee arrangements, and outcome-based fees. As with any other aspect of their business, clients want to minimize risk, improve forecasting and maximize earnings.

3. Technology spurs growth, collaboration

While brick-and-mortar law firms won’t disappear anytime soon, more practices are turning to virtual offices. Mobile and cloud-based technologies allow firms to provide clients with more streamlined services, faster response times and lower overhead costs, which translate to savings for both clients and law firms.

Virtual legal work is a positive trend for employees, too. Able to do business from anywhere as long as they have reliable Internet access, legal professionals can often enjoy a flexible work schedule — a major component of a healthy work-life balance. About four in 10 lawyers surveyed by Robert Half said the number of remote employees has increased in the past year, and 16 percent said they plan to redesign their office space to accommodate an increasingly mobile workforce.

Where there’s growth in technology, there’s a greater reliance on a company’s IT department. This is especially true considering the mushrooming number of intricate regulatory requirements and the need to effectively manage eDiscovery data. More and more, legal professionals will collaborate with in-house or contract IT colleagues to perform tasks faster, better and cheaper.

4. Blurring boundaries

Globalization has quickly become more than just a buzzword, and with good reason. Business clients are growing their customer base through cross-border affiliations and mergers, and the legal profession must keep pace. In a survey of American and Canadian lawyers, globalization was among the top three issues that respondents said will most significantly impact the law profession over the next five years — behind only corporate governance and data security. Legal experts who are multilingual and have a demonstrated understanding of other cultures will find they have an edge over the competition.

5. Legal services open to wider audience

The legal profession is beginning to experience the effect of “demystification,” according to Tim Collins, general counsel and chief ethics and compliance officer at Convergent. In the Future Law Office report, he says court cases have been a hot media topic lately. With TV pundits analyzing arguments and reporters following every step of high-profile lawsuits, the public has a better understanding of the legal process, no longer finds it so mysterious and is more likely to engage lawyers’ services. This trend, along with the rise in the number of practicing attorneys, is predicted to result in a surge in litigation, especially in the area of consumer rights.

To move forward in your career, you need to prepare for the law office of the future, not the one that existed a decade ago. One of the best ways to do that is to be on top of the latest legal research and trends. Don’t be caught off guard or get left behind.