This is our 23rd annual report on what’s going on in the legal profession, not only in the United States but also in other parts of the world. Like all our previous reports it is based on information we compile throughout the year from many sources including discussions with leaders in the profession. As always, some of our findings are obvious but they still must be included. Others are surprising and some are contrary to the Conventional Wisdom. Nevertheless, this is the picture at the beginning of 2012, a year which may well hold both economic and political surprises.
- Banking. Perhaps the hottest area in Financial Services due to uncertainty if the “Volker Rule” will be implemented this coming July when regulations that are part of Dodd-Frank take effect.
- Health Care. A broad area that includes regulatory, finance, M&A, real estate, labor & employment and professional liability. Regulatory may become red red hot. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, expected by June 30, will be a legal, as well as political, flashpoint.
- Energy. Oil, coal and gas in certain parts of the U.S. as well as Canada. Regulatory, land use and litigation are particularly hot in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania because of Marcellus Shale. Nuclear power is getting hot due to safety concerns in the U.S. but alternate energy may be cooling somewhat.
- Intellectual Property. Due to patent reform (“First-to-file”) but mostly for start-ups and smaller companies since large companies were already on a FTF system because of their global operations. Patent Litigation is becoming red hot for most firms while rate-sensitive patent prosecution work is being reduced and even eliminated in larger firms.
- White Collar Crime. Internal investigations due to fraud continue to increase. Adding fuel to the fire are new issues relating to the disclosure of inside information on social media.
- Regulatory. Many states are passing laws in opposition to federal regulations, particularly in health care, energy, banking and environmental. Constitutional issues are beginning to arise.
- Financial Services. Mergers & Acquisitions, Venture Capital, Private Equity. As a result, IPOs are really red hot right now since about 200 companies have filed this year, the largest backlog in more than a decade. However, some experts say new issues will cool down in 2012.
- Cyber Crime. Due to growing hacking and security issues at computer networks,
- Labor & Employment. On both the labor and management sides. Violations of wage-and-hour laws are increasing. Collective bargaining is a hot issue. Right-to-Work is heating up. Some L&E departments have added immigration lawyers.
- Commercial Litigation. In addition to patents and white collar crime, regulatory, insurance, health care and retail/wholesale cases are hot. Some experts and GCs report a big increase in “bread-and-butter” cases – some call it “Law Factory work” – and a steady decline in “Bet the Farm” cases. The decline in cases going to trial continues, resulting in more Alternate Dispute Resolution. Also see “Online ADR” under Other Trends & Issues.
- Immigration. With some exceptions, BigLaw and even MidLaw firms leave this area to firms that specialize in it.
- Commercial Real Estate. Some investors are buying individual loans and real estate owned (REO) properties taken back by the lender after foreclosure. Others are buying or building multi-family residences to capitalize on the booming rental market.
- Washington DC. “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Four and perhaps all of the U.K.’s top five firms – the so-called “Magic Circle” – are opening offices here in an attempt to build U.S.-based regulatory practices. This is part of their broader strategy to enter the U.S. market in a big way.
- Texas, Particularly Houston. The British aren’t coming – at least not yet – but the energy business continues to attract more U.S. firms to open offices here.
- BRIC Countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China). As we stated in last year’s report, they continue to be regarded by global firms as major growth opportunities. But see “Challenges to Globalization” under Other Trends & Issues below.
MARKETING & BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
- Social Media. Hotter than ever. As Deborah McMurray pointed out in her recent blog, it “is driving business and influencing it.” Legal marketing expert Larry Bodine sees huge potential for Google+ in marketing. However, some firms are starting to encourage more in-person relationship building instead. Also more firms continue to develop social media polices to prevent ethical as well as legal violations.
- Experience Databases and KM are also hotter than ever. This is why Content Pilot, McMurray’s strategy and technology company, developed Velocity, a mobile app to quickly provide information on a firm’s experience and expertise.
- RFPs. In the words of one CMO, “They are pouring in to big firms.” As a result, proposal automation apps that automate the RFP process continue to be hot.
- Educational Online Videos. In his post on attorneyatwork, Bob Weiss says these are an excellent opportunity to build a practice.
- Return on Investment. Firms are paying increasing attention to this. One example: Susan Greene, Marketing Director at Becker & Poliakoff, constantly evaluates goals and spending to measure the marketing ROI.
- Recruiting & Marketing. Recognizing the relationship of the two functions, Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff has elevated CMO Jeanne Hammerstrom to be in charge of Recruiting as well.
- Client Interviews/Audits. More firms are recognizing, however slowly, that the feedback and information obtained from them – particularly when they are conducted by knowledgeable outside consultants – are critical in strategic planning and development of growth strategies.
Robert Denney Associates Inc. has provided strategic management and marketing counsel to law firms throughout the United States and parts of Canada for over 30 years. Recent Communiques, as well as information about our services, are posted on our web site www.robertdenney.com
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