To make the best decisions for your company and career, you need to stay abreast of legal news and trends. Resources such as Robert Half Legal’s annual Future Law Office study and Salary Guide help legal professionals keep up with fast-moving industry changes. Here are four top trends from our research that will affect legal practice management in 2015:
- Clients drive changes in legal practices
Law firms aren’t calling all the shots anymore. In order grow business in a highly competitive legal environment, where the supply of legal services outpaces demand, law firms are partnering with clients to secure professional relationships. Here are a few ways firms are demonstrating their value:
- Developing a business mindset — Law firms are offering competitive rates and lower-cost services to retain clients and attract new ones.
- Creating new avenues of delivery — Some law firms are establishing diverse, client-facing teams, composed of partners, associates and paralegals, to deepen client relationships. Deploying specialized industry teams, rather than grouping associates into traditional practice areas, can better fulfill client needs.
- Offering alternative fee arrangements — While the billable hour certainly hasn’t disappeared, it’s seeing serious competition. To better plan their legal budgets, minimize surprises and maximize results, businesses are paying firms flat fees, monthly fees and/or results-based bonuses.
- Expanding knowledge — Clients want more detail and analysis on the risks and benefits of any legal action, as well as potential outcomes of any such action (or non-action). They also want to know that their legal team not only understands applicable laws, but their business and industry as well.
- Staffing models and hybrid roles expand
In many firms, paralegals are being called upon to support more lawyers and perform multiple job functions. In fact, hybrid paralegal/legal secretary roles are seeing so much demand that some paralegal associations and colleges are offering formal training programs in this mix. Paralegals with experience in compliance, contract and lease administration, and eDiscovery are in a position to see larger salary increases from year to year. Advanced technical skills and previous law firm experience are prerequisites for these new blended positions. In some cases, these roles may include dealing with clients directly, which offers new opportunities for professional growth.
A growing number of firms are creating non-partnership-track positions to address clients’ budgetary constraints as well as lawyers’ concerns over work-life balance. Called career associates, practice group attorneys or department attorneys, these positions pay less than associate roles — but they come with fewer hours, less travel and no business development responsibilities. This legal practice management trend allows firms to keep client billing under control while also reducing the burnout that some lawyers feel on the associate track.
- Growing demand for specialized expertise
To meet demand for specialized legal expertise, law firms are expanding lucrative practice areas such as corporate and general business, compliance, litigation, and intellectual property law. In addition, the growth of the healthcare field and compliance issues brought on by the Affordable Care Act is good news for attorneys with experience in healthcare; those with backgrounds in insurance defense and medical malpractice are especially marketable. As the real estate market continues to recover, law firms are seeing greater demand for experts in the legalities of commercial development, residential sales, and property management and leasing.
- Wages will rise
As legal clients become more prosperous in an improving economy, so will legal firms. This means a pickup in hiring activity, and with it, salaries inching toward pre-recession levels. The number of 2015 law graduates is projected to be about equal to the number of job openings this year, and the ratio will be even more in the favor of the Class of 2016, according to an ABA Journal article.
With fierce competition for the most experienced candidates, research conducted for Robert Half Legal’s 2015 Salary Guide reveals that employers are increasing base wages and offering more benefits, such as flexible schedules, telecommuting options and subsidized training. They’re also expediting the hiring process so they won’t lose skilled talent to the competition.
As you gear up for another year of growing your firm and career, know what legal trends are emerging and how they will affect your options and legal practice management.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.