June 21, 2011

What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession

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January 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 1| Page 12

Trends Report

What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession

It’s back! The annual look at the trends that will shape practice management and marketing in coming months and years.

All The Right Moves

As we flip the calendar to the new year, Bob Denney annually shares with us his firm’s report on what’s sizzling and what’s fizzling in the legal services market. From white-collar crime in the States to the white-circle firms of Britain, here is what to watch today, tomorrow and beyond. — The Editors

This is our 19th annual report on what’s going on in the legal profession in the United States as well as in other parts of the world. As always, it is based on information we compile throughout the year from many sources. Some of the findings are obvious. Others are not. Nevertheless, this is the picture at the beginning of 2008. — Bob Denney

Practice Areas


  • Intellectual Property. Not only patents but also copyrights, owing to Internet issues. Proposed legislation may provide copyright protection against knockoffs of high-fashion designs, too, because the devil does not always wear Prada. Also the PTO has adopted new rules.
  • Immigration. So hot that a few firms are separating it from labor and employment.
  • Labor and Employment. More complex than ever, not just owing to immigration, but also because of new EEOC rulings, continuing discrimination claims and possible new organization drives by unions.
  • Corporate Investigations. Fastest growing area of white-collar crime.
  • Complex Litigation. But see “Getting Hot—Mediation.”
  • Global Warming. California firms were the first to form this environmental subgroup that includes regulatory and insurance issues. Now Greenberg Traurig (which has offices and alliances around the world) has done so.
  • Domestic Relations/Family Law. Determination of parentage is now a hot issue in fertility law as the result of in vitro fertilization and embryo storage.
  • Pro Bono. Not only as a payback to the community, but also as a recruiting attraction and a professional development strategy to provide courtroom experience for associates.
  • Estate Planning and Administration. Particularly the latter, now that the baby boomers are starting to retire.
  • Elder Law. As part of the estates practice, mostly in smaller firms.
  • Animal Law. A niche that was heating up before the Michael Vick case and the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act was signed last May. There are anticruelty laws in 43 states.

Getting Hot

  • Mediation. As well as other forms of alternative dispute resolution.
  • Libel. Suits against bloggers and message board postings are still increasing.
  • Foreclosures. Small firms overcome the low rates with staff-to-lawyer ratios as high as 10:1.
  • Art Theft and Fraud. A small but growing number of lawyers in the U.S. and Europe are focusing on the recovery of stolen art and historical pieces.
  • Bankruptcy. The cycle is swinging back. May be hot again by spring.
  • Insurance Coverage. Owing to global warming. Area was cool a year ago.
  • Post-arbitration Litigation. Some experts are seeing an increase.

Cooling Off

  • Structured Finance/Securitization. Largely owing to subprime mortgages. But a few firms, including Patterson Belknap, have started subprime counseling practices to help clients deal with problem loans.
  • Mergers and Acquisitions. Deals are being cancelled or at least deferred.


  • Medical Malpractice. Filings continue to decline owing to tort reform in many states, while the percentage of verdicts in favor of health-care professionals has increased in some parts of the country. As a result, insurance defense practices are shrinking and some firms have dissolved.
  • Workers’ Compensation. Here, too, the number of cases being filed continues to decline.

Geographic Market

  • Phoenix. Firms from the Upper Midwest and more recently the East continue to expand with offices here because it is the logical market in the booming Southwest. Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll is the latest.
  • China. Still hot despite a shortage of legal talent and regulations that limit the work foreign lawyers may do. McDermott Will & Emery may have found a way around these hurdles by the strategic alliance it entered into a year ago with Yuan Da Law Offices of Shanghai—reported to be the first formal arrangement between a Western and a mainland China firm.
  • United Arab Emirates. Dubai is white hot. Patton Boggs and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher are opening offices there, following other firms that opened there in the past few years.
  • Spain. Has continued to be strong for U.S. firms.

Marketing and Business Development

  • CRM. As we reported a year ago, firms continue to struggle with business development activity reporting.
  • Marketing Technology. Jeanne Hammerstrom, CMO at Benesch Friedlander, has hired a marketing technology specialist to drive the CRM and competitive and marketing intelligence systems, as well as to work with recruiting and IT on project and practice management for practice groups.
  • Television Advertising. While still frowned upon by most of the legal profession, it continues to be the medium of choice for personal injury firms and others in the consumer legal market. (Radio is second.) Now LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell is partnering with Spot Runner, an Internet-based advertising agency, to create ads specifically for smaller M-H clients. Ads developed to date cover areas such as family law, drunken driving, personal injury and general practice. Commercials for criminal and immigration are being developed.
  • Print Advertising. Continues to be a medium of choice for large firms. Some have shifted their strategy from an institutional approach (i.e., the firm itself) to featuring practice areas. Cozen O’Connor and Winthrop & Weinstine were among the first. Now Benesch Friedlander (there’s that firm again) has launched an interesting campaign, “My Benesch, My Team.”
  • Advertising and Solicitation. The distinction is specifically addressed within the rules in some states. However, as ABA counsel Will Hornsby has written, “The ABA Model Rules and the states that base their regulations on those rules do not set out the distinction clearly. The difference is important, however….” Therefore, marketers and lawyers must be certain of the rules in their states. This gets even more complicated for firms with offices in more than one state.
  • Martindale-Hubbell. A new surge of challenges from firms questioning the cost of listing in M-H.
  • Marketing Budgets. Continue to increase as a percentage of firm revenues at both large and midsize firms, with many now going beyond the historic 2 percent. In the U.K., marketing budgets have always been much larger, running as high as 10 percent in some “white circle” firms. In the U.S. and the U.K., the big accounting firms have been spending that much for years.
  • Marketing Department Staffs. Increasing in size along with the budgets.
  • Role of the Marketing Professional. Appears to be changing in several different directions. Some firms have recognized that their chief marketing officers’ role should be strategic. However, as their departments have grown, a high percentage of CMOs are having to spend more time on department administration and staff management. And some firms now expect their CMOs to produce new business—i.e., concentrate on sales and business development.
  • Marketing vs. Business Development. Many firms have not yet realized that these are separate but symbiotic functions. As we stated in last year’s report, corporations long ago recognized this and have combined marketing and sales under one senior executive so that the functions supplement and complement each other. This is another area where law firms should learn from their clients.
  • Directories and Listings. As subscribers to the LMA’s list serve know, marketers are being deluged with queries from their lawyers about “Best Lawyers” lists, as well as solicitations from publishers promoting them. Since there are reportedly over 700 directories and listings, marketers must determine which are worthwhile. There are now at least two sources to help: The RankingsForLawyers blog posts marketing professionals’ opinions on lists and Jaffe Associates has produced a Rankings and Publications Report, available on its Web site.

NOTE: Discussions of additional developments, as well as more detail on some of the issues reported here, are posted in the Writings and Legal Communiques sections at Robert Denney's website.

To receive copies of the “What’s Hot and What’s Not” report, including periodic updates, contact Robert Denney Associates.

110 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, PA 19087
(610) 964-1938
fax: (610) 964-7956
web: www.robertdenney.com

About the Author

Robert W. Denney is President of Robert Denney Associates, Inc., a management, marketing and strategy consultancy.