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2013's Top Seven Legal Trends
   
December 23, 2013
 
 

2013's Top
Seven Legal Trends


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Before we jump eagerly into a new year, we rounded up a few of the top legal trends of 2013. (The #1 lesson this year: If you need help keeping things private—ahem, Target—hire Beyonce's lawyer.)

1) Merger mania

Dentons
There have been close to 90 mergers this year, with 29 in Q4 alone, according to legal consulting firm Altman Weil. Compare that to 60 in 2012. Some major mergers: the completion of the cross-border SNR Denton, Salans, and FMC combination to make Dentons (above); UK-based Norton Rose and Fulbright & Jaworski; Cooley acquiring Dow Lohnes; and BakerHostetler and IP boutique Woodcock Washburn. Some potential combos where talks fizzled: Patton Boggs and Locke Lord this month, and in November Dentons and McKenna Long, and Pillsbury and Orrick. (Could that signal a downturn in mergers for next year?)

2) Law firm structure shifts

Bisnow Real Estate event
The recession created changes to which firms are still responding. A few ways they're adapting: moving back-office functions to cheaper cities (this year Kaye Scholer started one in Tallahassee; others include Pillsbury in Nashville, Bingham in Lexington, and Nixon Peabody in Rochester); e-discovery groups integrated into the firm—like the 70-person group WilmerHale has in Dayton; graying of the law firm pyramid as there are fewer associates and more counsel and partners; real estate reapportioning as offices and total square footage shrink, glass lines open up, and public areas increase. Above, second from right at a Bisnow event, Pillsbury's Robert Weinstock says the DC office is moving from a 35k sqare feet space to 17k. Secretarial support is decreasing and being shared by more lawyers. Non-traditional law firms like Axiom, which has 800 lawyers, is opening two new offices next year, are growing.

3) Law school applications down

IMG_9606 (400x300)
It's been repeated how tough the legal industry is for young lawyers, and they seem to have gotten the message. This year, law school enrollments decreased by 11% from last year. Since 2010, that makes a 24% plummet, according to the ABA Section of Legal Education. As WilmerHale managing partner Bob Novick, above, told us, law schools will have to "figure out how to compete for a diminishing pool of applicants." And some law firms, in response to smaller class sizes, are moving more toward lateral partner adds rather than hiring associates directly from law school.

4) Gavels given go-ahead

Sri Srinivasen 2
After a long back-and-forth and filibustering on Obama's three latest nominees to the DC Circuit, the Senate exercised its "nuclear option" to change the confirmation rules. With only a majority needed to confirm them, Nina Pillard and Patricia Millett joined Sri Srinivasan (who was confirmed in May), above, on the DC Circuit. US District Court Judge Robert Wilkins is still awaiting his vote.

5) Same-sex rights improving

Windsor Kaplan
The Supreme Court's ruling in US v. Windsor dropped DOMA and Hollingsworth v. Perry (known as Prop 8) allowed same-sex marriage again in California. The Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, banning federal employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. And there are dozens of marriage equality cases ongoing. When we saw AP reporter David Crary at a Williams Institute event (where he joined DOMA's Edie Windsor and Roberta Kaplan, above), he said that he's noticed anti-marriage equality voices are far fewer.

6) Voting Rights Decreasing

John Lewis

While it was a pretty good year for marriage equality, it was the opposite for voting rights. When the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, invalidated the Voting Rights Act's pre-clearance requirement, it freed the way for states to implement voter ID laws and redistricting maps without federal approval. Justice Ginsburg summarized her dissent from the bench, and later called the ruling a grievous error that undermined the "most effective civil rights legislation Congress ever passed." Hearing Rep. John Lewis, above, speak about the Freedom Rides, sit-ins, and beatings that he and other activists endured to advance civil rights underlined the magnitude the decision.

7) Focus on privacy and security

Georgetown Cybersecurity Conference
Snowden's exposures about the NSA only served to put privacy and cybersecurity further on the radar. Last week, US District Court for DC Judge Richard Leon ruled that NSA's collection of metadata likely violates the fourth amendment. He called it almost Orwellian. In March, top US security officials called cyber attacks a greater threat than terrorism. Georgetown Law held its inaugural two-day Cybersecurity Law Institute, above, with speakers from DHS, FBI, and NSA, and law firms held numerous conferences focused on privacy and cybersecurity.

Is there anything we missed? Email us at Roksana@bisnow.com. We wish you all a happy holiday season and New Year. We are honored and delighted to be part of the legal scene in DC and look forward to another year of scoops, snaps, and laughs with you. We'll see you on the other side in 2014.

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