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10 big trends for the legal profession

legal.jpgIn the last few years, I’ve spoken to a variety of professional service firms, including many legal organizations — including two of the largest national law firms in the US.

In addition, I’ve become an expert witness in a number of court cases, include a successful leave-to-appeal to the Supreme Court.

During this time, I’ve come to understand the big trends that the legal profession is faced with in the years to come, and have put together a list of these 10 trends:

  • Generational warfare: the predominant legal battles of tomorrow are already emerging today as small skirmishes, particularly in the world of entertainment. The younger generation, weaned on a massively interconnected global world, has rejected many of the accepted norms of legal principle when it comes to such legal principles as intellectual property, the role of government, censorship, and environmental matters. As they come to take over positions of authority in government and business, they will completely redefine our legal landscape — with the result that they will go to legal-war with their older, more conservative legal peers.
  • The underground goes mainstream: One side impact of this generational warfare is that we will see “going underground” becoming more acceptable. in the last few years, we saw a fascinating battle between music companies and Kazaa, the music sharing organization, which used extraterritorial jurisdictional issues to provide itself some shelter against legal action. That type of activity is going to become the norm, not the exception, in the future. Indeed, going legal-underground is about to go mainstream: we can expect to see a lot more of it in the future.
  • Risk minimization takes on priority: events of the last several years have made it clear that volatility is the new normal. Much of the focus of the legal profession — whether it involves corporate, M&A, tax, consumer law or other issues — will be aimed at risk minimization. In a world in which we truly don’t know “what comes next” in terms of new and complex risks, organizations, government and consumers will increasingly seek to protect themselves in advance, through the law.
  • Legal hyper-change becomes the rule, not the exception: as the pace of innovation and change continues to evolve at a furious pace in every industry, as product life cycles disappear, as new knowledge is generated, and as industries disappear and appear, there will be a flood of new legal issues, challenges and concerns. The essence of the challenge faced by the legal profession today is found in the infinite idea loop which now envelopes every aspect of our world
  • Just-in-time legal knowledge becomes the focus: The typical lawyer will find that their biggest day to day problem is simply trying to keep up with the ever more rapid evolution of law. The most critical and important new legal skill will be developing the ability to quickly immerse oneself in new legal issues, matters and knowledge, at the right time, for the right purpose, in the nick of the moment.
  • Rapid change and specialization: The result of this rapid change in the legal space is that we will see an even greater degree of legal specialization than we see today. Already highly stratified, we’ll see sub-specialties within specialties, and specialties within those specialties. The law will become so stratified that a hundred thousand professions will emerge in the profession of law.
  • A global battle for legal talent: This hyper-nicheing leads to a curious effect: a supply-demand shock, in which it will become the norm for only a very small number of lawyers who have any real knowledge of a very specialized area of the law. This will further increase the cost of basic legal services, and makes a battleground for access to talent the new competitive edge in the provision of global legal services.
  • Evidentiary challenges: whether they like it or not, the Internet is increasingly going to be accepted as evidence in the courtroom, and the issues of information validity and integrity are going to become huge, complex challenges. The next generation of lawyers knows that the evidentiary rules of the last 200 years no longer have any effect, and will use this reality in many high profile cases, to devastating effect.
  • Alternative empowerment: the legal consumer today is already dabbling with self-empowerment, seeking alternatives to traditional legal guidance. What we see today is minuscule to what we see tomorrow, when the generation of kids, weaned on global information, sets out to empower themselves with legal services in the same way they’ve empowered themselves with technology in so many other ways.
  • Quick response and agility become success factors: the legal profession, not known for moving at a fast pace, will find that glacial response to emerging issues no longer cuts it. The profession will seek a transformation in attitude, capability and adaptability, knowing that its future success will come from its’ ability to respond to the rapid rate of change that surrounds us.

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