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Legal practice is fluid. As the law adapts to social and political changes, so must legal professionals. No law firm is exempt from the impact of these changes, and to be successful, firms must be ready to make adjustments. This is particularly true for small law firms and solo practitioners, who often work under smaller margins than large organizations. However, small firms may have the benefit of greater agility, making these practices better positioned to capitalize on swift legal changes by pivoting quickly.
The legal landscape is defined by the characteristics that arise throughout every aspect of American jurisprudence. As laws change, the legal landscape shifts—often in unexpected ways. Attorneys nationwide are closely watching what important changes are trending in 2020, especially since it’s an election year. But shifting political winds are not the only things that cause the legal field change in scope. The law also changes to accommodate new technology and innovation.
Change is inevitable. Thus, the question for law firms is not whether they are ready for shifts in law, it is how they will respond. The answer to this question is what will help keep them competitive, efficient and productive. For any small firm, now is the time to be proactive. This requires evaluating practice areas and workplace culture consistently. Consider expanding your scope to include these new legal trends, starting with the biggest changes that will impact the legal profession over the next year.
The impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic are unprecedented. The virus is rapidly leading to record-setting business losses, widespread unemployment and obvious healthcare concerns. We are facing a potential economic recession as a result, which may lead to record unemployment numbers, growth in personal debts, increasing foreclosures and astronomical medical costs. This is likely to result in new regulatory action, which is common during economic downturns. Attorneys play leading roles in the rulemaking process for state and federal agencies, which must update and implement important regulatory changes to keep up with other leading trends of society.
In regard to the legal profession, we will inevitably see a sudden change in certain areas of law. Some legal practices will diminish, while others will spike. Attorneys are already seeing a hurried demand for updated wills, planning trusts and managing estates of coronavirus victims. There are strong indications that our society will see an increase in bankruptcy law cases, unemployment law, worker’s compensation, health care and other general litigation. At the same time, we are also expecting to see an increased need for defense attorneys to take on the wave of insurance, mortgage and foreclosure, small business, class actions, medical malpractice and personal injury cases.
These times are uncertain, and they trigger a need for heightened sensitivity. Small firms and solo practitioners are essential to providing the attention worried clients need and the close professional relationships they deserve. To ensure they are equipped for the evolving legal landscape, small firms and solo practitioners must be prepared to help their neighbors and community members. This requires being properly equipped to deal with the increased demand for these specialized services over the coming months.
Every sector of the economy is impacted by advances in technology. The legal profession is no exception. As the digital transformation continues to shift the legal landscape, attorneys’ relationships with technology also changes.
Technology is now intertwined in all aspects of the legal practice, from electronic filing to social networking. Law firms use technology to stay connected, improve efficiency and represent technological innovations. Consider a few common examples:
The impacts of climate change are becoming more and more prevalent. People are concerned about the health effects. Rising sea levels are threatening waterfront properties, as are wildfires, severe storm surges and extreme weather events. From the business perspective, entrepreneurs want to invest in innovative climate solutions, certain sectors want to trade carbon credits and commercial businesses are looking for initiative and sustainable green development options. Small firms must incorporate environmental concerns into their practice to address these pressing and time sensitive issues.
More and more people are seeking out job opportunities that provide them flexible schedules and an amicable work environment. This is especially true with newer generations, which prioritize work-life balance. As firms grow, they must welcome a multi-generational workforce. Modern employees are more productive in workplaces that provide benefits like telecommuting and flexible hours. Additionally, individuals seek out places that value diversity and inclusion, as well as a team of supportive and connected colleagues.
Restructuring billing in small firms leads to better client-attorney relationships and promotes healthy long-term growth. Firms are now exploring fixed, flat or capped fees as cost schemes to better serve their clients and to de-stress their workforce. This stands in strong opposition to the billable hours method, which can reward inefficiency and create a high-stress work environment. The legal landscape is also responding to legal assistance provided by alternative non-lawyer resources. The market has become more competitive, which has also forced firms to reconsider and restructure their costs and billing schemes. Restructuring billing allows for cost adjustments that provide more affordable options for a wider range of clients.
Responsiveness to shifting legal trends can make or break any law firm. For small firms and solo practitioners, it is especially important to stay up-to-date in trending legal fields. Although this may seem challenging, there are tremendous benefits available for small law firms and solo practitioners to even the playing field against larger firms with more resources. By taking the time to proactively adapt to coming changes, small firms can gain a competitive edge in the evolving legal landscape.