Eye on the Profession: Ready for 2018? Some ‘hot’ tips to get you started

TrimbleFor 29 years, Bob Denney of Robert Denney Associates, Inc., has published his annual “What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession.” Firm leaders, industry consultants and legal junkies like me have looked forward to Bob’s compilation of industry news. Alas, unless he changes his mind, the 2017 bulletin will be Bob’s last.

According to Bob, the “red hot” areas of practice in 2018 will be health care, immigration and cybersecurity. These industries should come as no surprise because they have been hot for some time, and there appears to be no end in sight. All three of these practice areas have plenty of opportunities in Indiana.

The additional good news is that there are several other areas that Bob has labeled as “hot” for the year ahead, and Indiana has all of them in abundance. The Bob Denny “hot” areas are financial services, restaurants, food and beverage, elder law, sports, and real estate and construction. (Bob also includes bitcoin in the hot category, but it may hold less opportunity for Indiana lawyers.)

The “cool” areas, according to Bob, are commercial litigation and labor and employment. This designation is not surprising considering the downturn we have seen in commercial litigation in Indiana since 2008. Business owners are still litigating, but often they are only filing when there is a recovery to be received at the end of the case. We are seeing far fewer cases of egotistical CEOs or boards spending money fighting over principle or revenge.

Bob’s report this year contains several noteworthy trends for firm managers to consider.

First, the pace of mergers and acquisitions is not slowing. Record numbers of smaller and mid-sized firms are being acquired by larger firms, and more and more firms are crossing state lines. We have seen this trend in Indiana in abundance the last few years and word on the street is that it will continue.

In corporate legal departments, the numbers are growing. Businesses are taking their legal work in house, and lawyers are flocking from private practice into well-paid in-house jobs. Reports have shown that Millennial lawyers are bypassing firm ownership in favor of corporate jobs.

While law departments are growing, General Counsel are being urged to flatten or reduce their budgets and to do more with less. This tension is being felt by outside counsel who are being denied fee increases, and who are being asked to be more creative in how they handle legal matters. This trend is not likely to change soon, if ever. One by-product of this reality is that corporate clients are increasingly seeking budgets for the life of a matter, and they are expecting law firms to adhere to the budgets.

Bob’s report notes that the law firms that are seeing less work are increasingly reluctant to hire and retain partners and associates. This has led to more opportunity for contract and “flex-time” lawyers. This trend is prevalent in the larger firms of Indianapolis.

The changes and trends reported by Bob Denney should not be cause for concern. However, these trends underscore the need for lawyers in firms of all sizes to be more businesslike in how they manage their practices. There is plenty of business, and there are plenty of jobs, but the lawyers and firms who ignore these trends will be disappointed (or worse).

A special thanks to the Remsen Managing Partner Forum for sharing the Bob Denney report with Remsen subscribers. #WillYouBeThere?•


John C. Trimble (@indytrims) is a senior partner at the Indianapolis firm of Lewis Wagner LLP. He is a self-described bar association “junkie” who admits that he spends an inordinate amount of time on law practice management, judicial independence and legal profession issues. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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