Trends in Law for 2017

The law industry is a rapidly progressing and evolving field. From the introduction of new technology to getting rid of traditional billing models, there are many changes in law set to unfold over the coming year. For paralegals or people interested in entering the paralegal field, here are the five main trends you should be aware of that are set to take place in 2017:

1. Technology will continue to shape the legal landscape

Some firms that invest in legal technology tools see boosts in workplace productivity levels and greater financial results. Over the past year, attorneys increasingly invested in mobile, cloud computing and collaborative solutions to gain flexibility and convenience in the office. As additional technologies emerge and law firms move away from traditional operational models, technology is likely to continue to transform the legal landscape throughout 2017.

According to a 2017 American Bar Association Legal Technology Survey Report, 94 percent of surveyed attorneys stated they regularly or occasionally use mobile devices for law-related tasks outside the office. These lawyers leveraged their smartphones for many different functions, including 89 percent using them for email, while 75 percent keep track of their calendars. Other uses include expense tracking, billing and case-related communications.

Cloud collaboration and artificial intelligence (AI) are two of the main ways technology will rise in popularity this year. Cloud-based practice management software allows attorneys and paralegals to run their practices efficiently and affordably. Many legal software tools are specifically designed to offer easy and secure collaboration between litigation teams. This will reduce the risk of error and cut down downtime associated with hunting down necessary documentation in paper-based filing systems.

AI will shape the legal community by reducing the amount of day-to-day tasks attorneys and paralegals have to do. While still a developing technology, AI can streamline timekeeping, provide comprehensive legal analytics, review contracts, manage systems and more. Instead of law offices seeing AI as a threat to their livelihood, they should embrace it as a supportive tool to reduce busy work. This allows law personnel to focus on higher-level projects and analytic thinking to better support their clients’ needs.

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2. Data security will be a top priority

The rising popularity of legal technology is coupled with increased concerns over data security. As the human and financial costs of data breaches continue to soar, firms will likely take more proactive measures to avoid encountering downtime or a loss of industry reputation due to a hack. IBM’s 11th annual Cost of Data Breach Study found that average consolidated data breach costs at companies nationwide rose from $3.8 million to $4 million from 2015 to 2016.

Collaborating online may be beneficial for certain firms, but this time next year will see a greater push toward doing so in a secure environment. This will reduce the risk of email hacks or system breaches. The tech industry has realized the need for secure alternatives, which is why there are plenty of online communication portals that are affordable, viable options for increasing workplace productivity and keeping client information safe from cybercriminals.

3. Adoption of alternative billing models

Traditional billable-hour models are falling out of favor in the legal community. Firms are making a switch to alternative billing models, such as flat, fixed, capped or blended fees, in order to reign in legal costs and attract a wider variety of clientele. Outdated billing models have been increasingly criticized for rewarding inefficiency or overcharging for simple administrative tasks.

As one way to maximize value and foster long-term client relationships, law offices employ paralegals to handle research and other necessary tasks at a lower rate than attorneys would normally charge. Other firms are using digital resources, such as project management tools, to reduce the need for non-productive administrative duties, thus reducing the number of billable hours. For cost-conscious clients, they may appreciate only paying for tasks spent directly relating to their cases, not just on handling tedious paperwork.

4. Emphasis on better work-life balance

The law industry is notorious for employees spending long hours in the office, especially during pretrial or trial processes. Many law firms are busier than ever due to competitive legal marketplaces and an increase in demand for law-related services. This pressure to take on more cases with fewer resources has forced many paralegals and attorneys to sacrifice aspects of their personal life to put in longer hours and work harder.

As a specific example, the new administration introduced executive orders regarding immigration, which has caused many immigration law firms to kick into overdrive to handle all their additional casework. Despite the rising responsibilities, there have been pushes for better work-life balance in the law industry. Overworked attorneys and paralegals are demanding change in order to effectively handle their rising workloads and still participate in hobbies or spend time with loved ones.

As a result, firms have been implementing new workplace policies, which may include part-time work, telecommuting options, compressed schedules, temporary leave, alternative work arrangements and higher pay. Each of these moves allows law firms to hopefully experience better employee retention rates and increase office morale.

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5. Move toward greater workplace diversity

Traditionally, law has not been the most diverse profession. While women represent an estimated 50 percent of law school graduates, the latest ABA Current Glance at Women in the Law January 2017 report found that they only make up 36 percent of the legal profession. According to the report, when it comes to Fortune 500 general counsel, women represent 24.8 percent and only 19.8 percent of Fortune 501-1000 general counsel.

In August 2016, the ABA passed Resolution 113, which requests all legal service providers to create opportunities of all levels for diverse attorneys. Since this time, industry analysts predict that law firms that refuse to actively diversify will lose out on both existing and potential clientele. Over the next year, many law firms will make an effort to attract and retain attorneys and paralegals from a vast spectrum of diverse backgrounds, specifically regarding gender, racial, ethnic, religious, disability and sexual orientation.

People looking to make a career change or further their career advancement opportunities should consider George Washington University’s online Master’s in Paralegal Studies. As one of the few paralegal master’s degrees in the country, the program will equip current or future paralegals with the skills, experience and knowledge they need to succeed.


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