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Change begets change: Six post-COVID trends shaping the legal profession

Legal Field Changes
You can move forward or you can lag behind, but you can’t stand still.

Whoever remarked that “the only constant is change” was clearly onto something.

Since the introduction of COVID-19, havoc has reached into all our worlds—personal, professional, and familial.

Nothing is quite the same. We can’t live, love, travel, shop, or even work the way we used to. No one wanted a pandemic, but that’s not to say that all the ancillary changes that came with it are bad. If we can keep an open mind, there may be some unexpected career upsides. Here are six post-pandemic trends to consider as you continue to plan your legal career.

A fired-up employment market

Everything I see and hear—from recruiters, news stories, and career services professionals—is that the job market is hot. Across the board, there are more jobs than workers wanting to fill open slots, creating a revved-up demand for talent. While the economy may be growing slightly slower than hoped, most sectors are chugging ahead after a devastating 2020, and that usually bodes well for legal hiring.

This strong labor momentum works in favor of law school grads seeking nonlegal and JD-alternative positions, as well. When there are fewer available candidates with the ideal range of “technical skills” for a position, hiring managers have to seek out trainable individuals with the intellectual power to learn new areas and apply their “transferable skills” to the role at hand.

As a law student, you have the brain power. You also have loads of transferable skills in a variety of areas, including research, writing, persuasion, communication, and collaboration—just to name a few.

Retiring means more hiring

Another way the pandemic has changed our lives is reflected in the number of senior executives throwing in the towel. Across industries, many baby boomers have simply had enough. Under the mantra of “life’s too short,” they’re leaving their high-level positions in droves.

This has a multitude of benefits for new legal grads. Areas like estate and retirement planning will be needing lawyers to learn the ropes and advise these retirees. Elder and nursing home law will likely be a growth arena.

In addition, all those empty spots at the top of the chain will create opportunities down the line. If you’re interested in a particular area of the law, read up on how the changing landscape in that field may create opportunities for you.

Remote options aren’t so remote

If someone had told you two years ago that you could practice law from your home office, you might have shaken your head in wonder.

Today lawyers in every practice area, from transactional to finance to litigation, have been able to make distanced technology work for them. With apps like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and DocuSign, among others, you don’t have to be in the same country, much less the same office or courtroom, to complete a deal or attend a proceeding.

For new careerists, that makes for a double-edged sword. Your employment possibilities are no longer limited to the city in which you live. Your job search can be expanded to multiple geographies, assuming the licensing requirements permit it.

However, so can everyone else’s.

So competition increases as the opportunities increase.

And for first-time job holders, there’s something comforting about having office mates with whom you can get coffee, bounce things off, and just hang out.

The world keeps shrinking

The global legal service sector is anticipated to grow beyond $5.7 billion after the pandemic finally ends, according to Team Linchpin. While this trend may mean that certain legal jobs will be outsourced to countries where legal labor is cheaper, many companies and firms are looking to grow their share of this huge market. And that means hiring future lawyers with an interest or background in international culture or international affairs to offer added value.

Don’t feel you have to land an international job right out of school, though. If you look at organizations with international divisions, you can often start stateside and then finesse your way into a role that might take you far, far away.

Bumping the billable hour

The bane of a law firm lawyer’s existence has always been the billable hour. But, once again, there’s some talk of changing that system for good, at least for certain practice areas.

If firms can find acceptable alternative billing practices, clients and attorneys alike might revel in fairer billing and a more acceptable work-life balance.

Flat-fee billing (meaning per project) and alternative legal service providers (meaning contract lawyers who can be brought in to staff up on an as-needed basis) have been around for a while. But the search for ways to retain good lawyers and prevent them from burning out continues.

The jury is still out on this one, but it’s a trend to watch as your career accelerates.

Raising the bar

One more encouraging change: According to the ABA’s July 2021 legal trends report, three out of four first-time test takers passed the bar in 2020—the highest pass rate since 2013.

Maybe locking down was good for hitting the books and blocking out distractions?

Cheryl Rich Heisler Cheryl Rich Heisler, President/Founder of LAWTERNATIVES, offers individualized career consulting to lawyers and law students on exploring careers inside, outside & around traditional legal options. Her own career paths include big law, brand management, professional speaking/writing and mixology! Heisler currently sits on the ABA Career Center Board and writes for both Student Lawyer and Experience Magazine.