Survey says: litigation to drive law firm growth

Litigation and corporate law will be the driving force behind future law firm growth, according to a new Robert Half Legal survey.

The survey, released today, asked 175 big firm lawyers in Canada and the United States about which areas of practice they expect will generate the most revenue for their firms. The respondent lawyers all have hiring authority, Robert Half Legal said.

Litigation topped the list with 59 per cent of respondents giving it the thumbs up. General business and commercial law ranked second with 31 per cent of response.

“Managing partners at many law firms are focusing on improving profitability by shedding lower-margin work and expanding teams in high-growth specialties, such as litigation and commercial law,” said Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal. “Law firms are hiring senior-level associates with portable books of business or acquiring boutique firms to rapidly bring new services to market.”

Greater revenue from these practice areas will generate demand for those types of legal talents, said Volkert.

“In particular, associates and paralegals with three to five years of relevant experience, who can help corporate clients prepare for trial and comply with recent regulations, will be especially marketable.”

But a Toronto lawyer says the survey is missing the bigger picture. While litigation is in fact growing, specialization is the driving force, says Ben Hanuka of Law Works PC, a boutique firm focusing on franchise law.

“In my opinion, the general litigator is dead,” he says, making an exception only to senior litigators who generally take on big cases, often before the Supreme Court.

As the world gets more and more complex, what companies are looking for now is “an expert advocate” who has in-depth knowledge about their field of work, says Hanuka. “The litigator of the future is a lawyer who is an expert at advocacy but who is also an expert at that particular area of the law. That’s what clients want.”

Hanuka is also skeptical about Volkert’s suggestion that law firms are hiring younger lawyers.

“Young lawyers are in trouble because of technology,” he says. “Big law firms can no longer train young lawyers at the cost of their clients. Clients resent that,” he adds, noting that technology is now replacing some of the work younger lawyers used to do.

Third on the list of future revenue generators, according to the survey, is health care law, followed by bankruptcy, and labour and employment.

Six per cent of respondents said intellectual property will drive growth, five per cent voted for immigration, and four per cent for privacy, data security, and information technology law.

The survey puts family law, and ethics and corporate governance at the bottom of the list with only two per cent of votes.

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