5 Trends That Will Shape
Legal Practices in 2021

by: Sally Kane

Paradigm-changing shifts in demographics, client expectations, technology, and work styles have given rise to a host of distinct trends in the legal industry. As law firms position themselves to succeed in 2021 and beyond, understanding and leveraging these trends will help firms become more efficient, productive and competitive in the coming year. Below are five of the top trends that will shape legal practices in both 2021 and the foreseeable future beyond..

1. New Talent & Hiring Strategies

Fueled by the pace of technology, shifts in workforce demographics and the need to maximize client value, law firms are embracing new talent strategies. Non-lawyer hires are no longer limited to paralegals, IT and administrative staff. Many large firms now employ multiple non-lawyer executives, such as CEOs, CMOs and CFOs at the highest levels of their organizations and smaller firms are outsourcing C-suite services.

New high-skilled roles in the litigation support arena have emerged to develop and manage new technologies. Artificial intelligence is replacing workers who perform repetitive tasks and transforming the roles of other legal professionals.

Moreover, the rise of the “gigging economy” has ushered in the age of the distributed workforce. Temporary, contract and freelance roles are supplementing the existing workforce, allowing workers to work from home and employers to quickly scale up or down. As law firms move client-facing and back-office functions to the cloud, virtual assistants and remote employees are becoming more common in the legal field. These market changes will redefine the law firm workforce structure in 2021 and beyond.

2. Increased Focus on the Client Experience

Client expectations have been increasing for years, but the call for change may reach a tipping point in 2021. From a greater focus on the “client experience” to an emphasis on value-based services and tailored pricing models, law firms are stepping up their game to boost client service.

Law firms are responding in a number of ways to add value, reduce costs and adopt a more client-centric approach to law practice. They are partnering with other service providers to offer comprehensive solutions to their clients. From chatbots to online intake forms to payment portals, firms are also embracing technology and artificial intelligence as ways to heighten efficiency and improve client services.

Lawyers are also increasing client value by improving the service experience. They are adopting legal process management (LPM) and developing systematic workflows to improve efficiency. Firms are also getting more creative with alternative fee arrangements and value-added services and are being more transparent about costs. Law firms that place a high value on improving the client experience will prosper in 2021.

3. Emerging Technologies

It’s no secret that technology is changing the face of law practice. Gartner predicts by the end of 2020, 85% of customer interactions will be managed without humans. Bots are revolutionizing client service while voice search is transforming internet research. Artificial intelligence is performing a growing number of legal tasks, from legal research, document review, billing and litigation support to contract drafting, due diligence, and even jury screening. Lawyers are leveraging emerging augmented and virtual reality tools to convey key points in the court room, train new lawyers and collaborate with clients and experts. Digital, data privacy and cyber security will also continue to play a critical role in 2021.

Non-lawyers are also leveraging technology to offer services to the public that were previously in the exclusive domain of lawyers. The industry will continue to see a disaggregation of legal work to lower-cost platforms. In 2021, law firms that invest in technology to increase efficiency, reduce costs and mitigate risk will be ahead of the game.

4.  Micro-Niches

In recent years, law firms of all sizes have been marketing their firms as offering everything to everyone. However, data suggests that clients prefer targeted services. Further, increasing complexities in certain industries are creating the need for high-value legal expertise in particular areas. For this reason, micro-niches and demand for specialized legal services will likely increase in 2021.

Micro-niches allow firms to appeal to clients with specific goals and needs. A deep understanding of the client, their industry, their goals and their pain points allow firms to provide tailored services that truly add value in the eyes of the client.

Law firms can capitalize on this trend by becoming the go-to specialist within their area. Targeting a small segment of clients from a much broader market also helps lawyers set themselves apart, laser-focus their marketing and become a thought leader in their niche.

5.  Broader Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion and Equality

hile diversity programs were traditionally the domain of large law firms seeking to recruit the top candidates, today firms of all sizes have a better understanding of the importance of diversity, inclusion and equality. Even small and mid-size firms are actively promoting diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their practice. Programs like Mansfield Rule Certification will likely see higher levels of participation and commitment in 2021.

The #MeToo movement has also created a heightened awareness of equality as a business issue within the legal industry. In 2021, the #MeToo dialogue will push law firms to reevaluate their gender equality policies, implement training for employees and evangelize diversity and equality to prospective clients and recruits. Law firms may also promote more women to higher positions within the firm.

The Future of Law

2021 will usher in meaningful change as marketing, innovation, technology, and business-minded practice drive growth in modern legal practices. The competitive landscape is changing and lawyers will need rethink the way they deliver legal services in order to create a sustainable, profitable practice in the coming years

Sally Kane is a lawyer, writer and legal content director. Sally has been writing on the intersection of marketing, business and the law since 2004 and her work has appeared in many media outlets, including Legal Management, Law Practice Today, Attorney at Work and The Legal Intelligencer. She previously served as managing editor of Litigation Support Today and as a legal career expert for TheBalance.com. Follow her on Twitter @sallyannekane.