Posted by Heidi Schwartz
Being a legal professional today isn’t what it used to be. New research from Robert Half Legal, Client Dynamics Driving Change in the Legal Profession, examines how law firms and corporate legal departments are adapting to marketplace shifts and what it takes to thrive in the current environment. Part of the company’s annual Future Law Office program, the research identifies key trends influencing the legal field, including:
- Client service pressures mount;
- General counsel take center stage;
- Mobility gives rise to the virtual law practice, flexible workplace; and
- Demand for specialization sparks talent wars.
1. Client service pressures mount
As legal departments strive to manage rising workloads while containing costs, general counsel are seeking increased value from their outside law firms, including new avenues for delivering legal services, alternative fee arrangements, and in-depth knowledge of their industry. Many law firms are responding to this belt tightening by looking at ways to cut their own expenditures. For example, firms are tapping teams of legal secretaries to support groups of lawyers rather than assigning one legal secretary to several attorneys and creating hybrid paralegal/legal secretary positions. “By allocating work that doesn’t require a licensed lawyer to paralegals, firms are able to offer clients more cost-effective services,” said Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal.
Added Volkert, “In a highly competitive environment, law firms are altering their management strategies to improve service levels and win new business. This includes adopting corporate finance and operations practices to achieve greater efficiencies, narrowing the scope of their work and deploying specialized teams composed of partners, associates, and paralegals to support clients better.”
2. General counsel take center stage
As companies address more complex compliance and regulatory demands, general counsel are playing greater roles in business decision making. “General counsel are consolidating their network of law firms and moving more high-value legal work in-house in an effort to contain costs,” said Volkert. More than one-third (34%) of lawyers interviewed for the Future Law Office project said their companies retained five or more firms. On average, legal departments have five law firms on retainer.
3. Mobility gives rise to the virtual law practice, flexible workplace
Widespread availability of mobile applications and cloud computing platforms has enabled more effective and efficient delivery of legal services and led to the development of cloud-based or “virtual” law practices, without brick-and-mortar establishments. Technology also is enabling some legal professionals to work anywhere, at any time. Thirty-nine percent of lawyers surveyed for the Future Law Office project said the number of law firm employees who work remotely or telecommute has increased in the last 12 months. Sixteen percent said their law firm will redesign its office space to accommodate an increasingly mobile workforce.
To meet employees’ requests for better work-life balance and keep costs in check, some law firms are restructuring their legal teams and creating new positions designed to improve efficiencies. This includes offering new non-partner-track positions which enable lawyers to work as part of a practice group but at reduced billable hours and salaries, and without management responsibilities.
4. Demand for specialization sparks talent wars
More than half (55%) of lawyers surveyed said finding skilled legal professionals is a challenge. As legal organizations struggle to manage rising caseloads, competition for legal professionals with expertise in high-demand practice areas is expected to increase. Lawyers interviewed by Robert Half Legal expect corporate governance and regulatory issues, privacy and data security, and globalization to have the greatest impact on the practice of law. The use of legal professionals on a project or contract basis has become a common strategy for accessing specialized expertise and managing caseload demands, such as those related to mergers and acquisitions, class actions and eDiscovery.
To learn more about the program and download a complimentary copy of the report, visit futurelawoffice.com.