The years end is a time for both reflection and forecast. It’s a chance to step back, to consider what happened in the last 12 months, and how that will impact the industry in the next 12 months.
To that end we reached out to several experts in the legal industry. Some of these predictions are from practicing attorneys and some are from staff that support the business of law in IT or business development.
For simplicity, we’ve tried to categorize these up into three primary area, though we should point out given the variety of predictions, these do not all necessarily fit neatly into specific buckets.
The three categories are: a) the state of law firms; b) law firm technology; and c) law firm business development.
Update (10:30): Please note the order in which these are listed is not intended to convey a rank order, but merely a means to categorize the predictions in a manner that makes easy reading.
And now, here are the predictions:
2014 Predictions for the State of Law Firms
Firms will begin active Research & Development programs to improve communications, efficiency, and profitability. They will apply scientific rigor to testing new ideas and techniques, building upon those that are successful and swiftly discarding those that are not.
Alternative Fee Arrangements will give way to Alternative Legal Services. Rather than infinitely rejiggering how they bill for services, firms will focus on completely rethinking the way their services are delivered.
2014 will be largely indistinguishable from 2010-2013
Based on their responses to recent industry-wide surveys, most law firm leaders will continue to ignore the changing world around them. As clients increasingly demand greater value from their outside law firms, managing partners will continue to squeeze as much as they can from the prevailing billable hour/leveraged pyramid model. As overall demand for corporate legal services remains flat, most firm leaders will seek growth for the sake of growth. Attempting to buy top line revenues, they will expand their firms through aggressive lateral partner hiring and mergers – often at great financial and cultural expense to the long run health of their institutions.
I find that most predictions foresee big and often discontinuous change. My long experience in the legal market suggests that change, when it does come, is incremental and slow. So my prediction for 2014 is ‘more of the same’:
- Client Service. 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 to continue. Likewise the trend to improve and better target competitive / business intelligence will continue.
- Technology. 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. The start-up market for legal technology has been vibrant and I expect that will continue in 2014.
I would love to be proven wrong and see a ‘break out change’ in 2014 in large law firm client service or legal technology.
Continued improvements in the U.S. economy will further embolden law firms to roll out significant hourly rate increases in early 2014. Expect some tough conversations with law department leaders who have more options for procuring legal services than ever before.
2014 will bring a bigger gap between winners and losers. The losers will blame their decline on the economy and other external factors. The winners will understand that delivering an excellent client experience that gets talked about is the key to their victory. Reputation information spreads faster and wider than ever before.
There will be a surge in litigation in 2014. Research in both the Litigation Outlook 2014 by BTI Consulting and the Litigation Trends Survey Report by Fulbright & Jaworski predict that business clients will have more litigation files in 2014. Smaller firms will get those files as Big Law (the AmLaw 200) continues to decline. This has been documented by The New Republic, Above the Law and The New York Times.
Only slightly going out on a limb, I foresee that evidence-based management will continue to make progress. That is to say, increasingly quantitatively-aware leaders in law firms, law departments, and providers of services to the legal industry will collect better data, analyze it more insightfully, and even publish it with better graphics. Aside from e-discovery perhaps, the industry is nowhere near “Big Data” but it has data pertaining to management issues and decisions; as gradually as with other changes in the large and conservative legal industry, more managers in the forefront will realize the value of solid numbers transmuted into actionable findings.
As the insurance market hardens, firms will make coverage trade-offs in order to keep premiums the same.
Increased scrutiny of the personally identifiable information (PII) that law firms hold and what to do to protect it and what to do if it is stolen.
Cloud computing and “BYOD” will increase at law firms, but the need for added security measures to be taken will also become more important.
Investment in business development and personal marketing training for associates and partners will increase. Firms of all sizes, but particularly middle-market firms, will increase their commitment to cultivating a larger population of rainmakers – and will consequently expect increased origination and organic growth in return.
Small and medium-sized law firms will outsource administrative functions to outside business partners in greater numbers. Temporary staffing and other bridge services have been common in firms for some time, but human resources, marketing, call handling, and new matter intake, and other roles will be contracted out in a continuing upward trend.
In my crystal ball, I see more midlevel associates departing for innovative legal-tech startups, more and better emphasis on metrics by clients and law firm management, and maybe even another major-firm collapse.
…if current trends hold, firms that are giving lip service to efficient practices (flat fees, outsourcing, etc.) are going to have to start embracing them. The crucial part will be integrating new service models without diminishing client service and while maintaining high professional standards. Clients — and more importantly, ethics boards — will not settle for anything less. Firms that rush headlong into innovative business models may even find themselves in the unenviable position of being the first to defend those new law firm business models before an ethics board. Or worse, on the receiving end of a malpractice complaint.
Which brings me to what I think should be the focus of 2014 and beyond: lawyers’ professional obligations. It’s hard to see much of a focus on professional obligations in all the excitement over technology and new legal services models. But professional obligations do not go away just because clients demand lower bills. Lawyers will have to focus on the business of law while making sure they maintain high professional standards. This could be difficult, especially as some firms make big bets on new technologies, business models, or non-lawyer ownership.
Read Sam’s entire post here: Legal Industry Predictions for 2014 and Beyond.
2014 Predictions for Law Firm Technology
Security procedures and user awareness and education will continue to rise in importance in law firms.
Firms will invest in some newer social-enterprise tools, but the primary focus will be on recrafting/reengineering the business processes and procedures to maximize efficiency and getting more out of the tools they already have.
One law firm will pass D. Casey Flaherty’s outside counsel test.
I believe that 2014 will see even more attorneys integrating Macs into their practices. Younger attorneys are more likely to already know the many benefits that Macs provide when compared to PCs, and older attorneys will continue to have their interest piqued from their increased usage of iPhones and iPads. The continued development of more specialized apps developed for the legal field will only help.
First, cloud computing will become more ubiquitous, and lawyers in many States will be e-filing all of their pleadings and papers with Courthouse computers. As cloud computing becomes more common, data security will rise to the front of lawyers’ minds.
As more and more data moves to the cloud, it will be more important to realize that we no longer have control over our data. While local data storage may be safer, it is still problematic. Storage media changes over time, as anyone who used to store backups on Zip Drives can tell you. So, while storage in the cloud will become more common, offline storage will still be a prudent thing to do.
Second, I predict that the trend towards mobile computing will accelerate, and lawyers will seldom be tied to a desk for their computing needs. Desktop computers will become obsolete, as lightweight notebooks, tablets, and smart phones become the principal computers for practicing lawyers.
2014 is the year we’ll see the formulation of standards and compliance as is relates to service of process. Clients in the financial sector are already starting to perform audits on collection firms and process serving firms, so it will be important for these industries embrace technology that offers transparency.
2014 Predictions for Law Firm Business Development
Next year will not bring an end to the financial crisis, and law firms will continue to look for opportunities to both cut costs and enhance productivity. Savvy firms will look to technology to both increase efficiency and automate routine tasks. We will see firms refocusing on getting more out of their CRM implementations, which is still the weakest link in law firm business development: everyone wants to have it, most firms are willing to invest money in it, but only a few invest the time needed to get the most out it.
Continued explosion of sharing on social media channels including LinkedIn, Twitter, SlideShare & Pinterest.
2014 will be the year of mobile marketing for law firms. As PC sales continue to drop (thanks in part to Windows 8), the use of smart phones by clients will become nearly universal.
Consumption of legal news and content, both educational and conversational, will make a significant shift toward social and online platforms in 2014. Twitter, blogs, forums, and legal podcasts are going to become the major sources for in depth and timely legal content.
2014 will be the year where the legal consumer finally shifts its primary device from desktop searching to mobile and is looking for an instant connection. Our analytics are showing over 40% mobile searchers, and we are about to cross 50% for the first time.
The Launch of the Lawyer “Carousel” for Google Local Pages: Google Local has been going through massive changes lately, but one of the biggest has yet to hit. In 2014 Google is expected to launch their “carousel style” Google Local listing for attorneys which will seriously shake-up how local results appear in Google. Instead of listing local results within the organic search results as they do now, you’ll now see local results listed in a black bar across the top of the search results. This is going to turn local SEO for attorneys on its head so taking the time now to optimize that local profile for the carousel will pay off dividends once the switch is made.
Get a Responsive Site or Bleed Traffic Until You Do: Mobile and Tablet based web traffic are expected to be responsible for more than 30%-40% of your total visits in 2014. Attorneys without a responsive site will continue to see higher bounce rates and lower levels of engagement from these visitors until they spend the money on a responsive website. Those who already have their site coded responsively can look forward to the higher conversion rates that tablet and mobile traffic provide as mobile/tablet traffic increases to rise.
New Update 12/19/13: Bonus Predictions!
2014 will be last call for leadership in law firms. Most firms have spent the past several years continually kicking the can a few feet down the road, instituting short-term measures and stopgap solutions to keep profits steady and partners away from the kill switch. The weakest lawyers have now been culled, the least powerful staff have been fired, the most obvious mergers have been concluded, and the shiniest baubles on the free-agent lateral market have been pursued and signed. That’s it. There’s nothing left in the tactical arsenal. All the time outs have been used up.
Firms are now standing face-to-face with the hard truth they’ve been trying their best to avoid: their business practices have rendered them uncompetitive. They pay more lawyers than they need to burn up more resources than necessary to produce services of undistinguished quality at an arbitrary, inflated, cost-plus price point. Many of these issues are rooted in a lawyer compensation system that, in the immortal words of Stephen Mayson, “pays out too much too quickly to the wrong people doing the wrong thing.”
Law firms need new business practices better adapted to a highly competitive, increasingly sophisticated legal market heavily infiltrated by process and technology. Re-engineering the business practices of a multi-million-dollar professional services firm with dozens if not hundreds of autonomous owners is an extraordinarily difficult task, and only those firms with equally extraordinary leadership and culture will pull it off. 2014 is the year we start finding out which firms have leaders who can rise to this massive challenge — by counting the increasingly rapid downward spirals of those that don’t.
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Got a prediction to add? Please leave it in the comments – or tweet us @Business_of_Law and we might consider updating this post with predictions we find to be exceptional or excellent!
Photo credit: Flickr.
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Legal Industry Predictions for 2014 and Beyond