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As the new year begins, focus on these trends and challenges that are likely to remain hot topics throughout the year
With ever-changing technologies and regulations introduced each year, legal professionals face challenges related to client growth, flexibility, and building a successful online presence, among others.
As law firms gear up to face the new year, it’s a great time to reflect on where organizations can improve and focus time and money.
First, we’ll look at the top challenges that law firms need to address in the coming year, followed by expected trends in legal practice areas.
Work-life balance and flexibility
Work flexibility is one of the biggest trends today across all professions. Workers expect flexible hours, work-from-home arrangements, or open-concept office floor plans, as more millennials and Generation Z employees are comprising a larger portion of the workforce.
This can be a challenge for law firms, though these considerations have been making their way into the legal realm over the last few years. The Clio Legal Trends Report 2018 showed that 59 percent of law firm respondents think that establishing a successful work-life balance is important to achieve overall success. However, the same report showed that 77 percent of lawyers catch up on work outside of business hours, which can take its toll on families or personal lives.
Legal work often requires extra hours during more demanding cases. But law firms need to make work-life balance an even bigger priority in 2019, as young professionals continue to expect flexibility from their employers. Even if working overtime sometimes has to be a reality, there are other ways to give employees benefits, like work-from-home options or additional days off.
Online feedback and reputation
The multitude of easy lawyer-finder websites that exist today may start to overwhelm people who need legal help. Clients often want to talk to a real person, but they don’t quite know how to find the right representation with a quality experience.
Lawyers need to build up a positive online presence so that clients can find them and read reviews and success stories. The 2017 Legal Trends Report from Clio showed that the second most common way that clients find lawyers is by using a search engine. The first: getting referrals from friends and family.
So, to appeal to both of these client bases, attorneys should try to create an online presence that’s full of genuine testimonials that will make clients feel like they’re getting personal referrals.
This continues to be a challenge for attorneys. The 2018 Clio report mentioned above revealed that just 10 percent of legal professionals collect feedback using an online survey, and 37 percent don’t collect any kind of feedback. For those that do ask for comments, the most common type of feedback is more casual or in person.
Legal professionals would be wise in 2019 to focus on building an online reputation that will help them become searchable and ultimately get more business.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has said that an ongoing trend for law firms is focusing on creating family-friendly policies. These policies could include better time off arrangements, such as longer maternity leave, leave for adoptions, or leave to take care of sick family members.
Other considerations that new mothers would appreciate are amenities like a private room for rest or nursing or onsite childcare.
In 2019, more law firms will likely hire diversity directors or committees, the ABA said. Law schools like Villanova and others have been implementing programs to draw in more minority students, and law firms should be focusing on similar programs.
Ray Berg, a managing partner for Osborne Clarke, told Lawyer Firm News that many benefits come from making diversity a priority. He said that legal professionals should “challenge stereotypes and break down preconceived notions of the sector to ensure everyone can thrive and reach their true potential.”
Those in charge should make sure that their policies are inclusive; for example, allowing employees to take time off for holidays other than the major U.S. federal holidays.
Trending practice areas
A big area that will likely see growth in 2019 is environmental law, also known as green law. As debates heat up about environmental issues like climate change, coal, and eco-friendly regulations, these attorneys will be in high demand.
When the economy becomes uncertain or reaches a recession, bankruptcy law and labor and employment law both amp up. Clients need help with asset management during these times, as well as lawsuits related to employment issues.
While we’re not in an economic recession, the stock market saw a big downturn in the fourth quarter of 2018. The Washington Post says that this change could make last year the worst seen in the last decade. As 2019 begins, this uncertainty could impact the aforementioned law areas, as both customers and businesses may need legal help to address financial issues.
Finally, data and cybersecurity law are going to be a big part of 2019 practices. Datapine recently released the top 10 analytics and business intelligence trends for the coming year, predicting a huge focus on data management and discovery. Electronic discovery practitioners in the legal realm are tasked with managing litigation related to this e-information and navigating data security regulations and best practices.
There’s no doubt that 2019 will see change, whether with the introduction of new tools or more demanding expectations from a growing young client base or employee pool. Prepare for what’s coming by addressing these challenges from the start.
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