Fall of the decade: Legal Industry Trends for 2021

Most of the crystal ball predictions made a year ago about the legal industry have by now been outwitted, partly because of an unprecedented pandemic, and partly because of the legal industry’s inherent resilience and newfound flexibility.

Not only did the industry finally find and realize its abilities from workplace 2.0 - home, the nature of jobs changed altogether. Data privacy and compliance jobs turned out to be the most resilient, more and more legal work was outsourced, and more importantly, technological adoption - which had been on the C-Suite’s to-do list for a long time - was put into hyperdrive.

With the dusk of the decade, we are now a market that is - more aware, more open to transformation, and a lot more conscious about our buy-ins. This tectonic shift brings in its own superpowers and challenges, and as we stare into our futures, now is a great time to look into the key themes that might shape 2021- 

Emphasis on Data and Cybersecurity

Cyber attacks in 2020 have left the industry and large law firms - including one of the Am 100 - slightly unnerved and far more conscious about their digital processes. With increased remote work and online deliverables, there is now a greater threat to virtually-stored data and heightened scrutiny on where said data is stored.

For firms and legal service providers, this means - more and more clients will demand proof of data security. For legal departments and technology companies, it means - more and more clients will inquire about the backend processes and the steps taken to ensure data protection, and the fact that their sensitive data is not used or tracked without their consent.

Also, COVID-19 has stimulated the adoption of cloud-based SaaS solutions into business environments. This means the ambit of present-day security standards is incapable of handling more formidable threats from hackers and miscreants.

And, with the scrutiny that corporations like Facebook are being privy to, there is an increased demand for digital security from clients of law firms, ALSPs, or even legal technology tools.

This is an opportunity for cybersecurity platforms to integrate better with legal professionals. This is also a clarion call for local authorities and governments to ensure stringent actions and rules around data processing.

Democratized Legal-Tech Markets

Innovation and delivery of legal technology have so far been centered around North America and Europe. There has so far been very little scope for legal technology tools developed elsewhere. This is partly because of a dearth of capital investments in the other regions, and partly because of lack of access for these other smaller players to the larger markets.

That trend is changing. Legal-tech tools from India and South East Asia are joining the fray. India now has over 10 active legal-tech investors and is not new to legal-technology. Multiple startups have emerged in the zone ranging from - data analytics to access to justice platforms.

Also, Singapore - yet another economic hub in Asia - had extended its May 2019 program to help law practices adopt technology and also increased funding. This signals a shift in intentions in the continent to build sustainable and durable legal-tech solutions.

Solution over Innovation Approach

Client involvement will be key in the next phase of evolutions. Deloitte’s 2020 legal operations survey found a considerable amount of discontentment surrounding existing processes which indicated that despite the increasing rate of legal-tech adoption, clients were not necessarily happy with the products they opted in for. This also leads to a high churn rate.


Source: 2020 Legal Operations Survey - Deloitte

There is an industry-wide consensus that legal services need to be more aligned with what the client wants and not what you can offer. With increasing client-side pressures in the market and technology to bring accountability in the process, clients will be looking for greater transparency in both the billing process and service delivery.

Not just that, legal service providers will also likely improve their focus on customer experience. This trend is also replicable for legal technology platforms - existing platforms might have to shift from “can-do” to “must-do” and instead of focusing on developing abilities they think they can, must develop abilities that their clients really want.

Accountable hiring

Solving racial inequity

When the ABA tracked the racial and ethnic origins of demographies in the U.S., the results were not as encouraging as they could be for the past few years.

Source: American Bar Association's National Lawyer Population Survey


Another survey of top 200 U.S. law firms found a new quagmire when analyzing racial and gender diversity together-

While people of color represent only 16% of all attorneys in the top 200 law firms, women of color represent only 4% of that same group.

At the same time, 2020 has been a melting pot of discourses around diversity, inclusion, and what started as a movement in the United States, spread like wildfire across the globe. Not just the legal profession, laws are beginning to be reviewed and over the next few years, these discussions will be stimulated into reality as racial polarity is broken down.

That also means, most organizations will pay greater emphasis on their organizational culture and open up more jobs for people of diverse colors, genders, and more. Greater availability of data will drive this change and help firms and organizations make informed decisions on retention strategies.

The Baby Boomer Effect

In a few years, most baby boomers will have bowed out of the legal industry, which means that the Gen Y and Z will be in the higher rungs of the legal professional value chain. There are immediate impacts of this on law practice and the legal industry at large-

Managerial changes across the board

Multiple studies show - millennials are primarily motivated by the scope for personal development, work-life balance, and the ability to build impact.

This now calls for managerial changes. Not only are millennials becoming managers themselves, but they also will have to ensure breaking away from the overwork syndrome to sustainable work environments. This is even more true for the dissolving boundaries between work and home.

Greater reliance on technology

Research by Dell Technologies combined with an aggressive growth of emerging technology make the shift rather apparent.

Source: The Gen Z Effect - Dell Technologies


The newer generation is both fairly confident about its technological capabilities and is also actively looking to make work more seamless. They are challenging conservatism by not only adopting new technology but also contribute to the evolution of tools that will define work in this specific industry.

Hiring more Gen. II lawyers

With a generation more acclimatized to technology, the legal industry is finally turning a corner. There is a latent need for Gen. II legal professionals who will feed into this demand for innovation and both - operate and maintain these processes from the ground-up.

Gen. II lawyers - the legal engineers, process managers, legal ops professionals, and more - are converging diverse domain expertise within the law. They are also filling the expertise-gap between yesterday and tomorrow in terms of innovation.

In 2020, Gartner predicted that by 2023, 33% of corporate legal departments will have a dedicated legal technology expert to support the automation of core in-house workflows.

Professionals who can not only help manage these integrations or oversee structural changes within organizations but also directly contribute to the development of legal technology will be in high demand especially as law firms also join the legal-tech race.

Lean Law Marketing

There has been a growing focus on marketing in the legal industry in the past few years. However, that engine has for now lost some steam. With COVID-19 being tough on business, marketing budgets have faced some sorrowful music. But this is far from where the story ends.

2020 has also seen considerable strength amongst digital service providers. It also naturally emboldened ALSPs. Therefore, the competition that law firms face has only been raised.

That said- digital marketing will continue to make quite the impact. Small players that have not joined the online presence bandwagon or have not had their website created might want to reach out to their customers where they are. And for now, they’re mostly online.

77% of all respondents to an American Bar Association (ABA) survey in 2020 said that they participated in at least one social media platform for professional purposes themselves. Yet, weirdly so far - more than 40% of all solo legal services do not have a firm website yet. More than half that number are not mobile-friendly. And almost one-third of solos do not participate in social media.

There is huge headroom for all of these smaller players to participate in the digital pie and carve their brand presence in an era where more and more transactions are likely to be shifted online.