by Charles Volkert, Esq.
Ever wish you had a crystal ball to peer into the future of the legal profession? Fortunately, Robert Half Legal interviews leaders of the top law firms and corporate legal departments on the latest legal trends and publishes this research each year in its Future Law Office report.
So, what’s in store for the legal profession? Most notably, our research shows that clients are driving change for the foreseeable future. They want more accessible, efficient and value-driven legal services. In turn, these requirements are resulting in a transformation of the profession. Read on to learn how law office management will evolve in the next few years.
- Diversification of legal positions
The law firm of the future will not look like those of old. For one, there will be a greater variety of legal jobs as law firms focus more on flexible teams with legal support roles expanding and non-partners taking on a greater share of the workload. Here are some of the new legal job titles you may see in the near future: apprentice, resident, career associate, practice group attorney and department attorney.
- Pushback on billable hours
A key reason non-associate positions are on the rise is because clients are increasingly demanding cost-effective legal services. They also want more control over fees, which is why standard billable hours have to make room for alternative fee arrangements. These include flat fees, contingency fees, negotiated fixed fees, special fee arrangements and outcome-based fees. As with any other aspect of their business, clients desire to minimize risk, improve forecasting and maximize earnings.
- Growth through technology
While brick-and-mortar law firms won’t disappear anytime soon, more practices are turning to virtual offices. Mobile and cloud-based technology allow firms to provide clients with more streamlined services, faster response times and lower overhead costs, which translate to savings for both clients and law firms.
Virtual legal work is a positive trend for employees, too. Able to do business from anywhere as long as they have reliable Internet access, legal professionals can often enjoy a flexible work schedule — a major component of a healthy work-life balance. About four in 10 lawyers surveyed by Robert Half said the number of remote employees has increased in the past year, and 16 percent said they plan to redesign their office space to accommodate an increasingly mobile workforce.
- Collaboration with IT departments
Where there’s growth in technology, there’s a greater reliance on a company’s IT department. This is especially true considering the mushrooming number of intricate regulatory requirements, and the need to effectively manage eDiscovery data. More and more, legal professionals will collaborate with in-house or contract IT colleagues to perform tasks faster, better and cheaper.
- Blurring boundaries
Globalization has quickly become more than just a buzzword, and with good reason. Business clients are growing their customer base through cross-border affiliations and mergers, and the legal profession must keep pace. In a survey of American and Canadian lawyers, globalization was among the top three issues that respondents said will most significantly impact the law profession over the next five years — behind only corporate governance and data security. Legal experts who are multilingual and have a demonstrated understanding of other cultures will find they have an edge over the competition.
- Legal service open to wider audience
The legal profession is beginning to experience the effect of “demystification,” according to Tim Collins, general counsel and chief ethics and compliance officer at Convergent. In the Future Law Office report, he says court cases have been a hot media topic lately. With TV pundits analyzing arguments and reporters following every step of high-profile lawsuits, the public has a better understanding of the legal process, no longer finds it so mysterious and is more likely to engage lawyers’ services. This trend, along with the rise in the number of practicing attorneys, is predicted to result in a surge in litigation, especially in the area of consumer rights.
To move forward in your career, you need to prepare for the law office of the future, not the one that existed a decade ago. One of the best ways to do that is to be on top of the latest legal research and trends. Don’t be caught off guard or get left behind.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal®, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also offers a full suite of legal staffing and consulting services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and global markets.
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Question & Answer
I’m applying for a new position and worried about a gap between jobs in my legal resume. I’m afraid potential employers won’t give me a second look because I’ve not held a legal position in many months. What can I do to improve my chances of landing a job?
While your skills and experience aren’t rendered null and void simply because you had a period of voluntary or involuntary unemployment, gaps in work history can negatively affect your chances of getting hired. But don’t worry too much: You can successfully handle a break in your legal resume. Here’s how:
- Address the Elephant in the Legal Resume
Yes, hiring managers will notice the employment gap, so you might as well acknowledge that right away in your cover letter. Do so succinctly and confidently. Briefly mention the lull, but follow up with all the ways you qualify for this position. Be honest but don’t overshare, which could cast your application in a negative light. The legal resume or cover letter is not the place for explaining why you were laid off, fired or chose to quit. You’ll have plenty of time to explain the details in an interview — but only if the hiring manager asks first.
Keep in mind that legal hiring managers are human, too. Many of them understand that a mommy or daddy track temporarily takes some parents in a different direction. They probably have an elderly parent or ill family member who needs extra care. And they realize that the great recession resulted in layoffs. If you come across as forthcoming yet positive in your application, you’ll increase your chances of getting an interview.
- Highlight the Skills You Developed and Honed in the Interim Even though you weren’t working professionally during the gap, you weren’t twiddling your thumbs, either. Think about the new skills you picked up and the ones you honed. If you did volunteer work, try to align that with your professional expertise. Classes count, too; mention the continuing legal education (CLE) courses that you took while unemployment. Now is the time to start preparing to re-enter the legal job market. The key is to show that you have been active and engaged in the legal world, even though you weren’t receiving a salary.
- Switch up the Format
You can draw attention away from the gap by using a hybrid resume. This format combines the skills-based qualifications of a functional resume with the easy-to-follow structure of a chronological resume.
First, attract potential employers’ interest with a brief profile of yourself. In the next section, highlight your skills, experience and the results you’ve achieved, underscoring your potential value to the firm or legal department. Follow this functional section of your resume with a reverse chronological breakdown of your positions. The key is to bring your capabilities and expertise to light before revealing your employment timeline. By changing up the format, you control how you market yourself to law firms and legal departments.
Caveat: Hiring managers are not all the same. While some employers will automatically toss out a legal resume with a functional or hybrid format, others will not. Since you don’t know how each potential employer will react to your legal resume, all you can do is to apply to plenty of openings, diligently customize your application to each job posting, and stay current with the latest legal trends and technology.
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service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal
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