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The Impact of Trends in the Legal Profession on Law Students


Like most professions, the legal community is always experiencing new trends that will impact our future careers and the way that we practice law. Last spring I took a class with President Hardesty called Trends in the Profession that centered on this concept and what these trends would mean for us as law students as we enter the real world. By acknowledging trends, firms and law students alike can determine areas of opportunity for growth and improvement of client advocacy. Prior to taking the class, I did not realize the magnitude of some of these trends and their ability to interact and influence other trends. Some examples of current trends include the rise of technology, work/life balance, or the call for practice ready law school graduates.

As a result, it is important for us as law students to be cognizant to trends in the legal profession because trends can provide new employment opportunities for us or may inhibit them. For example, the rise of the use of E-Discovery has led to the creation of companies that focus solely on collecting and compiling E-Discovery for law firms as part of the litigation. These companies may be looking to hire attorneys to work in a non-traditional environment.

Some trends spawn from other trends. The rise of technology has helped to improve work/life balance by permitting attorneys to telecommute and become more efficient in performing tasks for clients. However, the rise of technology has also strained work/life balance because the office now follows attorneys home and they may feel pressure to respond to e-mails from clients and co-workers at all hours of the day.

Over the summer during my clerkship, I learned about another trend in the make-up of practice groups in some firms. Some firms are starting to go back to the idea that attorneys work under specific areas of law like real estate or banking. These attorneys would cover all areas of the each case whether it may be transactional work or litigation. Instead of having practice groups where certain attorneys may be focused specifically on litigation, attorneys can apply their expertise in one area to ensure that litigation is being conducted by those in the firm with the most relevant knowledge and experience to do so. I think that this model would improve the quality of representation that clients receive. For example, an attorney with a background in banking may be the best person to represent parties in a bankruptcy proceeding rather than an attorney who primarily practices criminal law. This would allow attorneys to focus on certain areas of the law. Some people may not necessarily think that this change in the law firm model is a trend, but I think that we should be aware of these types of internal changes in firm structures that may impact the way that we will practice once we enter the profession. Additionally, when you are looking for a summer clerkship or full time job being cognizant of these trends and being able to show your ability to adapt to these changes may help you to land a job.

In my experience, I think that the WVU College of Law has done a great job of recognizing the legal trends and adapting the curriculum that is offered to the students to prepare them to enter the current legal environment upon graduation with an idea of the other forces that may impact their careers. For example, new classes like E-Discovery are offered to teach students about the collection and application of E-Discovery during the litigation process. The WVU College of Law has also worked to answer the employers’ call for practice ready graduates by offering classes like pre-trial litigation and providing students with additional opportunities to gain practical experience through participation in one of the many law clinics or an externship. Like most jobs, employers are looking to hire individuals who already possess adequate experience to diminish the time exhausted on the learning curve. As a result, the law clinics and externships provide students with the ability gain practical experience as part of their legal education. Before selecting potential classes that you would like to take you may want to consider the current legal trends to be able to adapt to the ever-changing tides of the legal industry.

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