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What’s Ahead for Big Law in 2022? Here Are My 7 Predictions

Jan. 5, 2022, 5:52 PM

It’s that time of the year when I gaze into my crystal ball to see what lies ahead for Big Law. Here’s what I predict for this new year:

Lawyers will never, ever return to the office full time.

The big day for the big return will be set back—indefinitely. Senior partners and their Wall Street counterparts will rant about how remote work endangers firm culture, the sacred apprenticeship model, collaboration, and Western civilization itself. But who’s taking them seriously anymore?

Eventually, the masters of the universe will realize they can’t control the Covid virus and stop pestering the troops. Besides, now that we know lawyers can bill obscene amounts of hours in their pajamas and in the privacy of their own homes, who cares where they’re working?

Law firms will morph into wedding, bar mitzvah venues.

Now that those gorgeous, sleek law offices are virtual ghost towns, law firms will need to get creative about what to do with all that expensive real estate. Should they sublet them out to other firms or businesses? Well, there aren’t that many takers. Move out in the middle of the night and default on the lease? Not a good look for a reputable law firm.

Why don’t they instead rent out the most splashy areas of their firms for weddings, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs? Imagine a glowing bride (or groom) descending that magnificent staircase in your soaring lobby—isn’t that a better use of the space?

The diaper bag will be the new power accessory.

Forget the Birkin. The latest must-have accessory for female lawyers and other professional women is the diaper bag—a diaper backpack, to be precise. That’s what Theranos’ founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes sported during her trial for fraud. And even though Holmes was ultimately convicted, I’m betting the diaper bag will survive as a fashion statement.

Really, is there a better way to signal that you’re just an overworked mom trying to juggle it all? Besides, the diaper bag is a lot cheaper than a Birkin. The Hermes “it” bag sells from $9,000 to close to $500,000.

Stella E / Getty Images

Lawyers’ calendars will be stuffed with DEI activities.

Firm leaders will talk constantly about how DEI is a top priority and how they’re working day and night to improve their mediocre diversity records. Everyone will attend sensitivity training sessions, bare their souls during discussions about unconscious biases, and learn the most woke terminology.

But will firms change their client credit allocation system, give billable hour credit for DEI work, or penalize big rainmakers who only elevate Mini-Mes? Get a grip. Are you some kind of crazy radical? The upshot: fractional improvements on the diversity numbers, but everyone will feel better about themselves.

The future of Big Law will be female—with caveats.

As women swell the nation’s law schools, they’ll dominate summer associate programs and junior firm ranks. According to the American Bar Association, women have made up the majority of students in ABA-accredited law schools since 2014—and their numbers just keep on increasing (in 2020, women comprised 54.1% of law students.)

So will we finally see women breaking the 30% mark for equity partners? Well, let’s not get carried away, considering that women are just barely breaking the 20% mark now.

There’s growth ahead for wellness programs.

The mental health crisis in the legal profession will not be abating. To ensure lawyers’ well-being so that they can continue to bill 2,300 hours a year, firms will offer an array of services to alleviate stress—Pilates breaks, aromatherapy, crystal healing, and 24/7 cognitive behavioral therapy.

But what about doing something that will actually address lawyer stress—like decreasing the minimal billable requirement? Don’t be silly.

Money will trump other considerations.

Money might not buy anyone true happiness but it will buy certain trinkets of success that keep folks in the Big Law game. Depending on the seniority of the lawyer, that status symbol could mean a tidy apartment in a trendy NYC neighborhood or a house in a fancy Houston suburb; a ski hut in Vermont or a shingle manse in the Hamptons; a Volvo or a Range Rover. You get the idea—there’s always something to aim for.

Last year, the money in Big Law was spectacular—for everyone. So for all the talk about how lawyers are burnt out and in search of deeper meaning in their lives, they’ll stick to the game because money is always the ultimate balm.

To contact the columnist: Vivia Chen in New York at vchen@bloombergindustry.com

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