2015 Year-End Report

Special Issue • December 2015
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Looking Forward

Thoughts on the year ahead.


This transcript is derived from the video above and has been edited for style and for print publication.

It’s always dangerous to try to predict the future, but I think 2016 is likely to see the continuation and accentuation of a number of the trends that we’ve been seeing over the last several years. I will pick three to focus on. The first is the increasing stratifications and differentiations within the traditional markets of law. We’ve already begun to see this. For example, if we look at the large law firm market, the top of the top—the very highest-end firms—are moving away from the next set of firms. You are also seeing firms being much clearer about what part of the spectrum they are going to position themselves.  Let me be very clear, I think that there will be some very successful firms that do not aim to be at the very top of the top, doing only the highest end, highest value legal work. But, they may position themselves very effectively at other points along the continuum. These may be small boutique firms. It may be firms that harness information technology and others forms of process management to do work more effectively and cost efficiently. It may specialization, which itself may be geographic or in terms of substantive kinds of law. And it may be firms that differentiate themselves because of the interdisciplinary nature of their work by working across traditional boundaries. For a long time, law firms all tried to look the same. I think we are going to see much more differentiation in the ways that firms present themselves, in fact and their objective reality, over the next year.

The second thing I think we will see is much more innovation. This really flows from the first point. When I first started talking about disruptive innovation, many lawyers would look bemusedly and say, “Oh, that’s for other people” or “That’s not something that will really impact us.” I don’t think may law firm leaders—or many leaders in the legal profession anywhere in the world—believe that now. People see that change is coming. It is not going to be, as some people have apocalyptically predicted, the “death of big law” or “the end of lawyers.” But there is change that is going to happen, and people are looking for innovations both big and small. This does not just mean disruptive innovations. It also entails what Clayton Christensen calls “sustaining innovations”—changes that allow actors to do things that they are already doing more efficiently and more effectively. It also entails what CLP Senior Research Fellow Ron Dolin calls “adaptive innovations,” which try to build on what the clients are looking for as ways of adapting the processes of legal services provides.

Finally, I think we are going to see much greater importance not just on what is often called the “Global South” or the emerging economies we have been studying in our globalization project, but increasing interactions among those countries. We are used to thinking about the emerging economies as if they are in relation only to the United States or the United Kingdom or Western Europe. But, as part of our studies of globalization, we’ve seen increasing interactions among India, China, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, and the countries of Eastern Europe. I think that is going to increase overtime. And this will impact not only those countries, but also the U.S., the U.K., and Western Europe, all of whom depend on the emerging markets to drive profitability and growth. We will also see innovations that start off in the Global South coming back to have a profound impact on what’s happen in more developed countries, particularly as the number of North-South mergers, like Dacheng-Dentons, increase. That will help transform the legal market around the world.

2015 Year-End Report Special Issue • December 2015