‘Write a legal market 2016 predictions blog post’ they said. ‘It’ll be interesting’ they cajoled. ‘It’ll be hard work demonstrating genuine thought leadership’ I pondered. ‘I’ll be found out. And anyway, it’ll be easier to copy, I mean summarise, the predictions already out there on the Interweb from the great and the good.’
So I scoured far and wide (disclaimer: it may have been a single Google search) for the best (and worst) predictions of what the 2016 legal market will look like.
Where better to start than the LexisNexis Business of Law Blog which publishes a mere 41 (count ‘em) predictions for 2016. And what have we here?
Well, a bit of new law (per-lease, can we find a new term for this next year?) breathlessness about what a “dynamic, fast changing environment” the legal sector is as we’re told that “the pace and complexity of the disruption in the legal marketplace is increasing”. Okay, some truth in that, but it does sound oh so 2010. Can’t we do better?
A dose of realism then. “Big firm leaders” will continue to mismanage, by “undervaluing collegiality and cohesiveness”. Realism? Or scepticism? The Big Law market will, whether we like it or not, continue to thrive.
For those more interested in the Chinese new year than the turning of the calendar year, we also read that 2016 will be the year of the client (insert animal of choice here). “The day of the client is finally coming” (surely this statement is missing multiple exclamation marks!!!) and these “21st century clients will drive a revolution in the delivery of legal services”. Despite the slight hyperbole, these commentators have a point. Surely there’s never been a better time to be a buyer of legal services?
Well that’s the theory anyway. Briefly leaving our friends from Lexis a second, Professor Stephen Mayson tells us wearily on his own blog that good client service is certainly not alive and well. In fact it’s just about dead in the water. Is it fair to summarise the state of an industry based on a single anecdote? Perhaps not, but this is the blogosphere people, so anything goes! And anyway, those of us who know Stephen will know that his anecdote will be backed-up by roomfuls of research so doubt at your peril.
2016 the year of the client? We’ll have to see.
Back in LexisNexis land (that should be a *thing* with rides and swimming pools and hotels and stuff) we hear the negative (but no doubt sadly true) prediction that “law firms will not see significant increases in the number of women partners or women managing partners”. Perhaps the word “see” should be replaced with the word “facilitate” – discuss. Controversial one that, not for discussion around the Christmas dinner table for fear of upsetting the relatives.
Then we move into legal tech. That’s to be added to the list of phrases we want to ban. I fear what I’m about to read here. Swathes of associate cuts as AI takes over the world. I have visions of the scene from Alien when Kane’s stomach erupts, as AI bots explode from the bodies of hard working attorneys (I’ve used the ‘a’ word there for my large US readership) the world over. Or maybe the mulled wine I had at (not for) lunch is having an impact. Expectantly, I await the predictable self-interested tech predictions…
…but I’m disappointed. Even over at the Disrupt Legal blog which has its own 7 legal tech predictions for 2016 we’re told “Robots will not take lawyers’ jobs” and “the billable hour will not go away”. Yawn. Even Ron Friedmann, who’s not adverse to a bit of legal tech love, warns that AI “will make a big media splash but have limited actual impact…the hype cycle will be brought down to earth”. Surely gremlins in the machine here.
It does get better though as we’re told (*self-interested klaxon*) that “On-demand services will improve and expand”. Consistent too with the American Lawyer’s prediction that “freelancers will squeeze out associates. Firms will get hip about the freelance economy”. Finishing with a statement that could even be SPONSORED BY LOD (it’s not, promise) “Why shell out all that money for benefits and office space when they can hire experienced alums of top firms on an hourly or per assignment basis?’ Amen to that.
The craziest assertion made over on Disrupt Legal is not even tech related. It’s the prediction that “Biglaw will embrace work-life balance”. That’s a joke worthy of any Christmas cracker. And lest you think I’m being unfair to law firms, let’s not forget that client behaviour (deadlines, deals and – sorry, can’t think of a third ‘d’) drives (oh, there it is) supplier behaviour. Yes, another one not to discuss after a glass or two, it’ll all get too explosive.
But the work-life balance issue raises its non-ugly head again on American Lawyer which predicts “firms will hold parent visiting days” (Big Law offices are no place for children, leave them at home!), “firms will make a big show about work/life balance” with talk of hiring “nutritionists, pilates instructors, gurus and healers”. Healers? What is going on state-side?! And perhaps more realistically, we’re told that “non-partner tracks will explode…for part-timers, flex-timers, off-rampers, on-rampers, aspiring parents, new parents” and even “tired parents”. I give this last prediction a big fat Facebook *Like*.
The more I read the more it seems that Big Law is getting better at getting the soft stuff right with a prediction that by the end of 2016 “the majority of the top 100 law firms will have introduced CV blind recruitment policies for new trainee solicitors”. Good news for everyone. Except Oxbridge and Ivy League graduates I guess, please form an orderly queue to provide tea and sympathy.
We’d best finish off our visit around LexisNexis land (it’s great here!) where three themes emerge. The “Law Firm as a Service” will become commonplace. Firms will focus on ensuring that “knowledge…one of their most strategically important assets” is exploited properly and there may even be early adopters pursuing the “information-as-a-legal-service model”.
I see the sense in that. But with tech benefits comes tech risk. And surely one of the most sobering predictions (from our own good friend, Jordan Furlong) is that in 2016 “we’ll finally have our first high-profile law firm cybersecurity catastrophe”. Indeed, cyber risks will “continue to expand in both force” (insert your own Star Wars gag here) “and origin”. Perhaps for this reason, we’re told that “client security audits will top 200 pages” (happy reading everyone!).
The final one to throw into the melting point is that we’ll see Tripadvisor for Lawyers with “significant advances in third party lawyer rating services”. I’d personally like to see a Trip/Lawyeradvisor mash-up, where you can choose a restaurant based on the quality of the lawyers you’re likely to meet there. A kind of Tinder for hungry lawyers. Or something. And yes, that idea is copyrighted, or whatever the term is.
My favourite prediction of them all, again over on the LN channel. Sit down folks, it’s a stonker.
The Apple Watch will continue (sic) to gain traction as attorneys learn new and varied ways to integrate them into their practices.
Futurolgistic? Or just plain cobblers? You decide dear reader.
I leave the last words to Janet Stanton from Adam Smith Esq. Janet makes the unexciting but surely accurate prediction:
2016 will look very much like 2015.
What no hyperbole? What no exaggerated doom and gloom? Boring? Maybe. Realistic? I think so. And after all, if the incremental change we are seeing across our profession continues at its current rate – and, who knows, maybe even a smidgen quicker – then we’re in for a good, perhaps even great (if not over-dramatic) year.
See you on the other side!