I overhear a lot these days about what’s “trending.” Admittedly, I do not always understand what this means. To be honest, I used to sometimes harbor contempt and scorn for those overly active on Twitter and other social media; I now marvel at those who have mastered how to efficiently use this revolutionary resource to their benefit. Never have I seen so few barriers to social interaction and communication than what I see today on resources such as Twitter. In honor of the spirit of “trending” and learning how to effectively understand our profession and harness both old and new power, here are some important, and sometimes interesting, trends in the legal profession.
Practice Area Trends
When I was still a bright-eyed and eager freshman undergraduate, I interned for a successful city attorney and litigator. He told me that he thought that practice areas and specialization were the keys to success for future lawyers. Today I look around at how lawyers can differentiate themselves from the onslaught of outsourced legal services and non-lawyer legal work that is proliferating all around us.
One of the ways this can be achieved is through practice areas that document-driven, “big box” legal services cannot sufficiently provide. Three practice areas that may qualify, and are considered red hot right now, include financial services, regulatory, and healthcare practice areas. Litigation, labor and employment, and intellectual property law are areas that are also growing. Other growth areas include intern rights, mediation, and arbitration. While each of these requires varying levels of document work, it is important to remember that stamping out documents is different than writing a persuasive argument for a brief. These areas also often require careful human understanding or negotiation. I once had a seasoned litigation lawyer explain to me that while a doctor may have a scalpel, the lawyer has words–and that we should know how to use them with precision, accuracy, and perfection. Being experts at this craft differentiates lawyers from document servicers.
While there is much recent mention of non-lawyers in the profession, it seems this is a growing trend. The Washington State Supreme Court approved the creation of non-lawyer legal technicians and New York is looking at a non-lawyer program of its own. In California, some have expressed interest in a limited-practice licensing program. While this trend seems to be advancing, and here to stay, lawyers now have the opportunity to define and integrate the change for themselves. One professor at Washington and Lee School of Law, James Moliterno, has suggested the inclusion of non-lawyers in leadership and policy roles at the ABA and within state bar associations. He noted, “Turning to creative non-lawyers presents the most advantageous way for the legal profession to grow and change on its own terms.” Attorneys currently have the opportunity to “get out ahead” of the change and to effectively utilize non-lawyer professionals in order to shape the coming and present change in a way that is beneficial to the growth and future of the profession.
Lawyers have been employing support staff to help with document-driven (and some other types of) work for decades. This has allowed lawyers to focus on the more detailed, nuanced, and creative aspects of lawyering and the law. On this note, a recent study by legal recruiter Robert Half Legal, as reported by Inside Counsel, revealed, that, “Law firms and corporations increasingly need more specialized lawyers. Litigation and e-discovery are pivotal areas in which legal organizations continue to need targeted expertise.”
“Trends” oftentimes refers to change which is temporary–but sometimes it is here to stay. Even when a trend goes away, it can influence the lasting discussion in some way. As with any trend, find what trends work for you, what trends do not, and which classics to retain in the process.