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Bar News - January 18, 2017

2017 Legal Trend Report: What’s Hot, What’s Not

The following is an edited version of a report by Pennsylvania-based national law firm consultant Robert Denney, who notes that some trends vary by geographic area.

This year marks the 28th such report by Denney’s firm and the fourth to be published shortly after a presidential election that resulted in a change of political party and administration in the White House, which inevitably has an impact on the legal profession.

“We expect the Trump administration will have a greater impact on the profession than any of the past three changes of administration,” writes Denney.

Practice Areas


Cybersecurity continues to be the No. 1 issue for in-house counsel and is becoming so for consumers.

Health Care and almost every practice area involved with it. Of course, the Affordable Care Act will have substantial changes or could even be repealed.


Intellectual Property, particularly patent prosecution and trademark litigation.

Immigration. Obviously. And it will get red hot.

Elder Law. Not just due to the aging population but also due to increased emphasis on health directives.

Regulatory. While there will probably be fewer new regulations or even cancellation of some existing ones, prosecution under corporate integrity agreements will continue and also under other compliance issues. The Davis-Bacon Act will at least be modified, if not repealed.

Energy. Oil, gas and electrical. Coal may warm up but alternative energy will cool down. (Also see Environmental below.)

Technology. Of course.

Environmental. The Trump administration is expected to pull back a number of the “Midnight Rules” the Obama administration will promulgate before inauguration. In addition, there may be far more friendly policies regarding the exploration and production of both coal and natural gas.

Infrastructure. One of the reasons will be greater support for public-private partnerships.

Financial Services. Although IPOs have been cool, they may get hot next year.

Real Estate & Construction. Commercial. Residential is now also heating up.


Labor & Employment. This was hot early in 2016 and will heat up again regarding wage-and-hour issues.


Commercial Litigation. Pretty hot in Mid-Law firms, but companies are having their internal legal departments handle more and more cases.

Corporate. Depending on a firm’s client mix.


Bankruptcy. Will remain cold unless the economy stumbles.

Other Trends and Issues

Professional business developers or “sales executives.” They have been a staple in accounting firms for many years. Now some law firms are employing them and believe they are, or will be, productive.

Social media. Continues to be far more effective for building individual lawyer reputations than for firms.

ROI is becoming even more important for measuring the results of marketing and business development activities. The challenge is what criteria to use.

Lateral hiring continues to be hot. While there are other reasons for this, the principal one is to increase revenues and, hopefully, profits. Some firms are using client teams and cross-office meetings to improve and accelerate the integration of new laterals into the firm.

Project management. Firms are continuing to invest in this to meet client demands.

Artificial intelligence. Just being explored by a few firms.

Competition. It’s now coming from two new directions: Non-legal business entities like LegalZoom and from the clients themselves who are using their legal departments as well as alternate service providers.

Blockchain. The technology behind bitcoin. Currently being adopted by banks, advocates say it has the potential to “change the world.”

Alternative fee arrangements. Many clients want billing options but most firms still cling to the billable hour structure.

Cybersecurity. While many firms have developed plans for reacting to a cyberattack, many more have still not developed or implemented cybersecurity plans to prevent such attacks.

Alternate business structures (ABSs). These have been “legal” for 15 years in Australia and for nine years in the UK. Opposition continues to be strong, but the number of non-lawyer entities continues to increase.

Fewer private practice jobs for law school graduates. Although the number of jobs in large firms increased, the overall employment total was the lowest since 1996.

Scamblogging. A category of online writing by debt-burdened law school graduates who are convinced their law schools misled them about their opportunities for employment.

Changing lawyer structure. Because many firms of all sizes are being faced with overcapacity, there will be fewer equity partners, more non-equity partners and “permanent” associates as well as greater use of contract lawyers.

Bar passage requirements. After being threatened by the Department of Education with removal of its accreditation powers, the ABA has started the process to tighten up bar passage requirements for accredited schools.

Bob Denney is president of Robert Denney Associates Inc., providing strategic management and marketing counsel to law firms throughout the United States and parts of Canada. Read the full report at

Your New Hampshire resource for professional investigative services since 2005.

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