Congratulations, Law School Class of 2014! Here’s What May Be Ahead

May 12, 2014

Law schoolThis month, thousands of law school students will transform into law school graduates. Provided they pass the bar exam, they will soon enter the legal workforce – a workforce that has morphed rapidly and drastically over the past decade and certainly is not done changing yet.

Large Law firms, as a whole, are at something of a standstill, economically speaking. Midsized Law firms have a real chance to grab more of the market, but that will take significant work and a large-scale conversion of ambition into results.

So, into what kind of industry will these graduates be immersing themselves? No one can predict the future, but if recent history and industry trends are used as a guide, here are a few elements the legal industry of the future might exhibit:

  • Fewer lawyers…hopefully: While pockets of unaddressed demand, such as legal services for low-income populations, do exist, the general consensus seems to be that the legal industry emerged from the recession of 2008 overstaffed. As law firms march into the future, they will likely do so shedding jobs. That may hurt recent law graduates who need that first job to start their careers, but it could ultimately be a positive thing if it results in the industry self-correcting and reaching a healthy size where the number of attorneys roughly corresponds to the amount of work available.
  • More precise feedback from Big Data: Today, lawyers have two things they did not 10 years ago: Vast seas of data that could inform their practices and the means to harvest and utilize that data. The possibilities here are truly intriguing. For example, a law firm could use litigation history and market trends to identify and woo new clients like never before. Now, whether law firms will be able to put “Big Data” to use is an open question, but few seem to doubt it is an opportunity for them.
  • A substitute for the billable hour: An older lawyer might be able to recall the days of submitting a bill to a client that said nothing more than “For services rendered.” That gave away to very detailed, itemized billing and that, in turn, is giving way to formats other than the billable hour. Alternative-free arrangements are common in many fields and, apparently, are making inroads into one of the last holdouts – litigation. Clients are also demanding a new degree of efficiency; the legal industry has been de-mystified, to an extent, so clients are unwilling to be surprised by their legal bills. Now, just what form these two forces will take if they combine remains to be seen, but it is hard to imagine them not having a lasting effect on the way law firms seek to be paid for their work.