From Western Pennsylvania to Seattle and South Africa to Dubai, the legal community is focusing its expansion on a select few markets for a host of different reasons, according to the 25th annual What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession report from consulting firm Robert Denney Associates.
Some of the geographic markets Denney identified were to be expected and others have emerged more recently. Asia and Latin America were both cited as hot markets for the increasing demand for legal services spawned by their growing national and regional economies.
South Africa has become a target as well, Denney said, pointing to Hogan Lovells’ recent acquisition of 120-lawyer Routledge Modise in Johannesburg. Germany continues to provide strong legal markets out of Frankfurt and Berlin, Denney said, though he cautioned that the local firms there prove to be strong competition. Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is another international market U.S. firms are flocking toward, he said.
The push by U.S. firms to get into the energy sector has resulted in Houston, Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania becoming sought-after locales for lateral recruiting, mergers and new office openings. Houston also has the added lure of the health care and technology sectors, Denney said. The Utica Shale play is driving the Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania growth, Denney said, but the pace of natural gas drilling in Northern Pennsylvania has slowed due to low gas prices.
A less-talked-about market among Pennsylvania firms that Denney identified as a hot legal clime is Seattle. The consulting firm said the indigenous Seattle firms are growing and out-of-town firms, particularly from California, are eyeing the market. The wide range of national and international businesses in the region is driving this growth, focused primarily in the areas of real estate, technology, intellectual property and financial services.
When it comes to hot practice areas, Denney deemed some usual suspects as the three “red hot” practices—energy, regulatory and health care. Energy is bringing work both in the United States and abroad. The health care, energy and financial services industries are spawning increased regulation and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act continues to be a muddled, complex area for attorneys to tackle, the report said.
Financial services is a hot practice area, Denney said. And IPOs have shown promise over the last year, but may be cooling off. Litigation continues to be a hot practice, but, aside from bet-the-company work, clients are sending their matters to smaller and medium-sized firms that offer lower rates, Denney said. Corporate is also a hot practice area for similar reasons, Denney said.
Real estate and labor and employment remain busy, as does intellectual property. Denney said patent litigation instituted by patent trolls is driving work as is the use of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s new inter partes review of patent approvals. Trademark suits have increased and patent prosecution continues to be hot, Denney said.
There are several legal areas Denney said are getting hot. Interns’ rights is a small but growing area, Denney said, due to recent legislation in Oregon and proposed legislation in New York to give unpaid interns similar protection given to employees. Other legal issues getting hotter are those involving privately held and family businesses, education, elder law and alternative dispute resolution, Denney said.
When it comes to legal marketing and business development, soliciting client feedback continues to be something more firms eschew than do, Denney said, citing a recent Martindale-Hubbell report on the topic.
Content marketing has become the legal marketing industry buzzword, Denney said. And more firms are placing an emphasis on business development and cross-marketing to current clients versus other forms of marketing. Social media was listed as one of the most popular business development strategies, with LinkedIn and Twitter being viewed as the most productive tools, Denney said.
According to Denney, chief marketing officer positions are becoming a more strategic function in the law firm, with CMOs advising on pricing, business analysis and project management, the firm said.
Legal project management is a hot button issue—and a necessary one, Denney said—but chief operating officers are reporting the process gets more attention than implementation.
Other Hot Topics
Denney pointed out a number of other trends in the legal market, including the issue of nonlawyer competition.
The report noted the Washington State Supreme Court approved a rule creating nonlawyer legal technicians and the New York State Bar recommended moving forward with a pilot program to allow nonlawyer advocates to provide out-of-court legal assistance to low-income New Yorkers. California is looking at a limited-practice licensing program and the American Bar Association is softening its position on fee-sharing with nonlawyers, Denney said. There are also proponents of allowing nonlawyers to serve in leadership and policy positions in national and state bar associations, the report said.
Along the same line as nonlawyers involved in the profession, Denney noted non-JD programs. He said enrollment in such programs has increased 13 percent over the past three years. The consulting firm said they are attracting people such as doctors and environmental consultants who don’t want to practice law but feel they need to know some legal basics.
Succession planning for law firms continues to be one of the hottest and most important issues facing law firms, Denney said. The firm noted succession planning involves more than transitioning clients, but should also address retirement funding, mandatory retirement, firm infrastructure, compensation and grooming future leaders.