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Once a month, we dedicate the Friday Five to what’s buzzing in the business of practicing law. This month, it’s all about what the future may hold — from new privacy concerns to futuristic law office layouts to the prospect of more start-ups by women in the law. Kandy Hopkins points us to five trends worth watching, so hone your sixth sense with these useful links to the future.
1. Will anything be forgotten? Wearable tech, such as Google Glass, promises to be the fashionable wave of the future. But what does it mean for privacy concerns? Today’s smartphones can already track the user’s GPS location, and wristbands like the Fitbit track caloric expenditure — so what personal information will future tech automatically track and upload to the cloud? Whatever it is, you’ll need to proactively manage your privacy settings. If you want to bother, that is. On the heels of the EU’s proposed “right to be forgotten” policy reforms, a survey of European consumers shows considerable confusion and mistrust: “Most consumers now deal with so many organizations, both online and offline, that they no longer know who holds what information about them.”
2. Will legal tech kill middle-class law jobs? The ongoing trend of computerizing legal work, such as discovery and drafting of simple contracts, has led to concern that computers “will take middle-class jobs” away. That may indeed be the case, especially in light of news that venture capitalists are increasingly investing in legal technology start-ups. According to the ABA Journal, it seems VCs are “skeptical of the upheaval underway in BigLaw, with uncertainty around changes in pricing and ownership rules as well as concern about efficiency and access to justice,” so they are funding vendors that are filling in some of those holes.
3. Will women leave BigLaw? The fact that women have been “failed” by large law firms isn’t so much a trend as a constant state of … being. Worth noting, however, are two new studies that show female attorneys and judges aren’t just paid 18 percent less than their male peers, they’re also billed out at a rate that’s on average 10 percent lower. Since you’d assume clients care more about the bottom line than the gender of their attorney, charging less for a female attorney may very well backfire. Could it give women the power to leave BigLaw with the clients in tow to start their own firms? Women-powered start-ups are on the rise: According to a non-law-specific study, the rate at which women have opened businesses has doubled in the past three years.
4. Will law firms even have offices? Thanks to the economy, many law firms have already moved to smaller spaces. The law office of the future, however, may be even smaller and emphasize “technology, particularly mobile lawyering and virtual engagement with clients” with an “open floor-plan, [and] individual offices that are the same size regardless of seniority,” according to architecture firm Gensler. The firm unveiled a 5,000-square-foot pop-up law office design, “ReDesign Law: The Law Office of the Future, ” at the ALA’s annual conference last week in Toronto.
5. Will BigLaw implode? Law firm leaders know that the legal market is changing, yet on the whole they aren’t changing their delivery models to adjust to (or take advantage of) those changes, according to the latest Altman Weil Law Firms in Transition Survey. “Most firms are not making current investments in a future they acknowledge will be different — and different in seemingly predictable ways,” the report states. Firms are, however, pursuing “growth through aggressive lateral hiring” and “using the non-equity partner tier as a profit center,” despite an admitted 50 percent failure rate of those lateral hires, according to a post on Belly of the Beast.
Kandy Hopkins is a Contributing Editor at Attorney at Work. A Chicago-based freelance writer and copy editor, she specializes in legal and healthcare topics, formerly blogging for the Thomson Reuters-affiliated Hildebrandt Blog. Whenever she’s asked, “So, what do you do?” she always replies, “Whatever I think I can get away with.” Most people think she’s joking.
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