But the likes of tax and employment are growing
Litigation, property and immigration lawyers are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, a new report has found.
Legal research outfit LexisNexis has crunched some numbers and found that the outlook remains “challenging” for certain practice areas, with demand for legal services seeing a “horrendous” drop during lockdown.
Meanwhile, other specialities are flourishing, with employment and tax appearing particularly virus-proof. LexisNexis says that firms might want to “move into adjacent practice areas that are growing faster”.
Taking the temperature of a specific practice area can be a tricky business. The authors say they “considered almost 300 different datapoints to reach a representative basket of 10-20 metrics which are accurate proxies for legal services demand in 13 key areas of practice”. For example, to gauge demand for property lawyers, they looked at the number of residential property transactions but also things like the number of new homes being built.
Each sector then gets a percentage score for recent growth or decline in demand, as well as a rating on the future outlook from “accelerating” down to “challenging”.
Some of the results aren’t a massive shock. Litigation, both civil and criminal, has been hard hit by trials being cancelled. For civil and family litigation, the report found a 21% drop in demand in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, while for criminal litigation it was 27%.
Non-litigation criminal work is also rated as “challenging”, although it held up better than expected. A big drop in certain crime rates, such as robbery, was offset by a rise in drug offences as police found it easier to nab dealers on empty streets. The overall drop in legal activity was only 5% in Q2.
Immigration and property are “slowing”. Flight cancellations and travel quarantine rules have been “horrendous” for immigration lawyers, while Q2 was a “rout” for property lawyers.
But some sectors saw growth in demand even at the height of lockdown. Employment lawyers emerge as kings and queens of the ashes, with a 4% rise in activity in Q2 2020. LexisNexis says that “the counter-cyclical nature of employment law means that legal demand should continue to grow even as the jobs market weakens. Businesses’ need for legal advice will rise with more redundancies likely”.
Another winner is tax, which “remains one of the fastest growing areas of the law for the first half of 2020”. It’s joined in the “accelerating” category by corporate and risk & compliance.
The report suggests that law firm bosses should be asking themselves “Could you move into adjacent practice areas that are growing faster?” and “should you change your approach in struggling areas and reassign staff to areas of greater need?”. Luckless litigators could find themselves having a “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber” conversation before too long.