2016’s hot-or-not forecast

It’s prediction season! This time of year, you’ll find one article after another reviewing trends and predicting next year’s conditions in the legal profession. Here’s the best forecasting article I’ve read this season, with a few highlights:

  • Legal project management is a hot topic, though it’s also under-utilized.
  • Alternative fee arrangements continue to be popular, especially in the context of an overall reduction in legal fees. Some firms are using non-partner track attorneys to ensure more consistent profit under these arrangements.
  • Younger attorneys, especially millennials, are not as interested in the traditional law firm model as previous generations, which is causing a crimp in succession planning and challenges in hiring.
  • Corporate legal departments continue to expand and take on work that would previously have gone to outside counsel; lawyers with large books of business are joining in-house departments in search of better quality of life. (Though the article doesn’t draw this conclusion, I’d suggest that this is also a result of an increased squeeze on lawyers who don’t originate enough work to be considered financial contributors to the firm, particularly non-equity partners in large firms.)
  • Increased competition is here. Law firms are competing not only against one another, but also against accounting firms that are building legal services divisions and other outside service providers that can provide services previously offered only by lawyers.

Here’s another article that offers the 15 Best Opportunities and Trends for 2016. A key takeaway from this article is that “[m]ore clients expect outside counsel to understand their business” and that lawyers must seek to understand the business and demonstrate that understanding. If you serve business clients, this should be considered a non-negotiable area of focus for the coming year. (Interestingly, this article offers a generally rosier view of the upcoming year than the previous article.)

Read the articles and consider the trends… Ask yourself whether your experience bears out these articles’ conclusions. Predictions are often incorrect and where there’s a trend, there’s often a counter-trend as well. But the bigger question is, so what? What do the trends these reports identify mean for your practice, and what adjustments do you need to make? 

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