What Surprised You In 2010? Perspectives from Legal Professionals

Thumbnail image for ny-iStock_000014444470XSmall.jpgWhat surprised you in 2010? And, what should lawyers expect in the new year?

That’s what we recently asked our friends and colleagues in the legal profession, with the thought of putting together a year-end review fueled by diverse voices from within our community – lawyers, consultants, service providers, marketers…

Social media emerged as a dominant theme – hardly a surprise – but, as you’ll see, not everyone agrees on what it all means, or how law firms are participating.

Among other answers, we also heard from lawyers about changes and surprises in their particular fields of practice. We’d love to hear more of these; please leave us a comment with your thoughts. What’s changing in your practice?

A complete record of responses is available here, including credits for all of our participants. We’ll be adding others as additional replies come in.

In the meantime, some of the highlights:

2010 Surprises in the Legal Profession

Jordan Furlong: “What surprised me most in 2010 was the speed with which change in the legal marketplace accelerated. Coming into the year, lawyers knew or should have known that the days of their near-exclusive access to the marketplace were ending … But the competition came on stronger than anticipated, from legal process outsourcing companies to contract and temporary attorneys to the year’s biggest surprise, Thomson Reuters’ acquisition of LPO Pangea3…”

Donna Seyle: “Purchase of Pangea3 by a business other than a law firm. It shows that this upending of the law firm structure is really driving the legal services industry to think out-of-the-box, and the implications will be far-reaching as Thomson Reuters implements their concepts by integrating Pangea into their family of offerings…”

Tim Baran: “The past year continued the trend of law firms and other legal organizations adapting to change. No small development since the profession is notoriously averse to change. The still stagnant economy played a significant role as new hires, especially among administrative staff remained a trickle, with most standing pat and some continuing to lay off…”

Lance Godard: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: In 2010 (like in 2009), conditions were ripe for meaningful change in the business of law, more than they have ever been (and probably ever will be again). But at the end of the year we’re still talking about the same things — in virtually the same exact terms — as we were at the end of 2009…”

Jim Calloway: “Oddly, it was the iPad…”

Steve Matthews: “The biggest surprise for me in 2010 was the rapid adoption and impact of tablet computing. Apple iPads have moved from testing ground status, to the anticipated production of 6 million units per month in 2011!”

Gina Rubel: “I still find it surprising that many law firms in the U.S. are either 1) blocking social media and/or 2) do not have social media policies in place…”

Jayne Navarre: “What didn’t surprise me was the uptick in the number of both large, medium, and small law firms moving from cool to lukewarm in the arena of social media. I saw a significant increase in requests for group social networking training for lawyers, particularly partners. What did surprise me was the lack of law firm investment in training for staff; both in regards to responsible engagement and proactive presence…”

Lindsay Griffiths: “The thing that surprised me most about 2010 was the level of fear that people still have surrounding social media…”

L. Russell Lawson: “What surprised me most was the American Bar Association weighing in late in the year with an effort to modify the Model Rules to potentially shut off the conversations in social media about legal issues. It seems to me that a well-informed universe of consumers of legal services can only improve the delivery and efficiency of the law and lubricate the scales of justice…”

Daniel Schwartz: “What surprised me was how all consuming ‘social media’ became in the employment law area. Nearly every speaking engagement I was invited to was about social media in one form or another.  What also surprised me (but shouldn’t have) is how attorneys who don’t even use social media suddenly became ‘experts’ too…”

Chris Hill: “The explosion of Social Media and the growth in solo practice. I think this was due to the contraction in 2009 at large firms and the continued growth in law school graduations.  The younger lawyers plus the sudden realization of the power of the internet (coupled with in person contact) by attorneys who saw the marketing need led to the growth in online marketing through social media…”

Laura Gutierrez: “How great the content is coming from lawyers (how non-legal it reads), and how many of them have taken to social media…”

Venkat Balasubramani: “Overall, it seemed like this was the year in which the legal profession embraced Twitter with much enthusiasm.  A large percentage of these people probably viewed Twitter as purely a business development tool, and I expect many of them will drop off, if they haven’t already done so…”

Garry Wise: “There were no great surprises in 2010 for lawyers who’ve had their fingers on the pulse of the social media world – just a natural progression.The once-radical thought that there is a bona fide professional use for social media in the legal profession has been mainstreamed and normalized…”

Gwynne Monahan: “Thanks in part to Facebook, privacy became a mainstream topic of discussion and concern.Social media made its entrance into the legal industry beyond a marketing channel. Won’t be long before it is a standard aspect of eDiscovery. Request documents & social media history…

Stephen Fairley: “What surprised me most in 2010 was the fast growing adoption of social media. In general, attorneys tend to be way behind the curve when adopting any new technology, especially when it relates to internet marketing. So it surprised me that attorneys seem to be adopting social media much faster than I anticipated…”

Elliott Alderman: “What surprised me, given the economy, was how well some smaller and mid-sized niche practices performed. There was a general thinning of the herd, and I think increasingly the model of the large multi-discipline behemoth is broken. Particularly in tight financial times, clients increasingly want fixed fee and value-added legal services, and it is difficult for large entities to support their infrastructure…”

Stephen Seckler: “In 2010, I was surprised that attorney layoffs were as modest as they were at the most highly leveraged firms.  While many firms managed to report small increases in profitability for the 2009 year, this was primarily accomplished through cost cutting.  Without a dramatic increase in corporate activity in 2010, I had expected to see another round of associate layoffs. Instead, I am hearing that some firms are actually beginning to recruit some laterals…”

Amanda Ellis: “I thought firms would focus on hiring laterals who were already admitted to practice in the hiring state.  However, firms still hired out-of-state lawyers who were not yet licensed in the hiring state IF the lawyers had top academic credentials (in the examples I saw, this usually meant a JD from a Top 10-20 law school, not just a Tier 1 (top 50 ) law school)…”

Larry Bodine: “I was surprised
how wrong the predictions were for an economic recovery in the legal profession in 2010. Instead we got the dismal “new normal” with layoffs, indebted law grads without jobs, cost-cutting, and gloomy expectations from managing partners…”

Howard Sollins: “What surprised me was the degree to which there is a perception that TARP was a negative program when it saved large segments of the economy for far less of a cost than was anticipated…”

Marc S. Stern: “The Supreme Court decisions on Consumer Bankruptcy were surprising.  The court seems to be retreating from its literal interpretation of statutes.  I suppose that is necessary given the unintelligible drafting.   I was also surprised that Congress got its act together and passed a bunch of much needed legislation in the lame duck session…”

Andrea Cannavina: “It really shouldn’t have. It surprised me in 2007, 2008 and 2009. I figure eventually… but 2010 was not to be the year.  What am I talking about?  That in 2010 the majority of lawyers using the business process of dictation still use tapes. Remember tapes?!?! Running a close second this year would be the number of attorneys who believe because they can type and manipulate software, they don’t need an assistant.”

See the full record of responses and credits here: The Legal Profession Looks Back on 2010 and Ahead to 2011.

What suprised you in 2010? What do you see for the new year? Share your thoughts in a comment to this post…

Best wishes for the new year!