Anticipating A Bright Future For In-House Lawyers

Thursday, March 1, 2007 - 01:00

Editor: Your service as WMACCA's 25th President has given you the opportunity to interact with many colleagues in the in-house community, the media, in-house counsel, law firms and regulators on both the state and federal level. As your term comes to a close, do you have a few parting comments about the current and future state of in-house practice?

Reicin: This year I have a few thoughts on where I think the in-house practice of law, and for that matter, the practice of law generally might be going over the next 10 or 15 years. I think that we are at the end of several trends and in the infancy of many others. My "educated" predictions for the year 2016 are:

The law firm consolidation trend will continue and major corporations will employ mega-firms only for the most sophisticated litigation, transactional, tax, regulatory and M&A work. Discovery, billing and document work will be viewed as "commodities" to be outsourced to volume and overseas providers. Conflict of interest rules will be largely ineffective. Midsize firms will become less prevalent in major metropolitan markets. Paralegals and para-professionals will handle work that first- and second-year associates used to perform.

At the largest corporations, the current practice of in-house counsel "picking" their friends and former colleagues to send work to will end, and the professional procurement groups (also called strategic sourcing groups) will use far more sophisticated modeling, auctions and RFPs. Although everyone will still want "alternative" billing arrangements, complex projects will remain on an "hourly" (time and materials) basis. We will have fond memories of the $600-an-hour, senior-partner rate, but we will be outraged by a $300-an-hour, first-year associate rate. These rates will diminish large law firm representation of all but the wealthiest clients.

During the past 20 years, we have seen a dramatic shift in the speed and efficiency of the practice of law with the addition of each new technology (overnight mail, fax, electronic word processing, electronic legal research, e-mail, e-filing/knowledge management, Internet search, video conferencing and Blackberrys). This trend will continue mostly to the detriment of our personal lives and to the "perceived" benefit of our clients. It will continue to fall to us to encourage our clients to prioritize and recognize when immediate turnaround is required and when further thought is preferable.

The troubling trend of the criminalization of legal malpractice (e.g., HP) and the pressure to waive privilege (exerted by auditors and law enforcement) will continue for the next few years until a backlash results in a more reasonable approach.

Several other jurisdictions will adopt rules similar to the DC rules concerning multi-disciplinary practice (MDP), and, over the next decade, companies will find better ways of creating captive law firms/consulting practices. See , DC Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 5.4 (Professional Independence of a Lawyer). The multi-jurisdictional practice (MJP) debate (e.g., Maryland in-house attorney practicing for her client in California without a California bar license) will move away from the states and become an international MJP debate.

With the changing demographics of our country and the workforce over the next several decades, firms and organizations will see more diversity in their ranks, but not enough. We will underestimate the impact of the baby boomers retiring from practice (given current trends, for the foreseeable future, there will be more baby boomer attorneys retiring in the next decade than new attorneys admitted to practice).

In-house counsel will continue to gain respect both within the legal community and the business community. The revolving door (movement among government, firms, and in-house) will accelerate over the next decade. In an increasingly regulated environment, individuals with law degrees will populate more of the executive suite than today.

Editor: Where can our readers learn more about what the experts think about the future of the legal profession and demography in general?

Reicin: I recommend the materials found on the website of the Harvard Law School Program on the Legal Profession (available at www.law.harvard.edu/programs/plp), the ABA materials dedicated to the future (available at www.abanet.org/tech/ ltrc/research/futures/home.html), the Robert Half International Future Law Office website (available at www.futurelawoffice.com), the Demographic Research website (available at www.demographic-research.org), and the University of Michigan Population Studies Center website (available at www.psc.isr.umich.edu).

Editor: How can our readers learn more about WMACCA?

Reicin: Information about our upcoming CLE programs, corporate counsel forums, networking events and other resources is available at www.acca.com/php/chapters/index.php?chapter=wmacca. Your readers can also contact our Executive Director IleneReid at (301) 230-1864 or wmacca@verizon.net.