New White Paper Examines Business of Law and Sarbanes-Oxley Impact

New trends within the legal profession are reshaping the practice of law as law firms rethink their traditional structures and employ corporate business models to enhance client service, streamline operations and manage growth.

These key findings are made available by Robert Half Legal, a legal staffing service specializing in attorneys, paralegals and other highly skilled legal professionals, in a just-released white paper titled "New Perspectives on the Business of Law." The white paper is part of the company's continuing Future Law Office project. The research also highlights changes to the staffing of law practices, from the influence of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 on corporate legal departments to alternative legal careers for attorneys who choose to veer from the traditional law firm partner track.

For its Future Law Office project, Robert Half Legal periodically commissions surveys of attorneys and legal administrators, interviews leading experts and conducts extensive research to determine how law offices will operate in the future. The results are available at www.futurelawoffice.com. "A focus on maintaining profitability is impacting the legal profession in many ways," said Sheron Hindley-Smith, executive director of Robert Half Legal. "Corporations continue to consolidate the number of outside law firms with which they work, and the industry is becoming extremely competitive."

The Business of Law

Increasingly, law firms are implementing integrated marketing and sales campaigns to generate new business opportunities, research shows. "Law offices are hiring senior marketing executives and placing public relations agencies on retainer to build a strong brand image, better market their services and raise awareness with target client groups," said Hindley-Smith.

According to findings released in the white paper, law firms must adopt sound management strategies to capitalize on their strengths and prepare for the industry's inevitable shifts. To improve the bottom line, law firms are behaving more like corporations. At the nation's largest firms, for example, senior partners are taking on roles as chief executive officer or chief operating officer.

"In response to growing pressure from clients to deliver value-added services without fee increases, firms are streamlining current operations and updating technology systems," Hindley-Smith said. "They're expanding their client base by launching new practice groups."

Sarbanes-Oxley and the Corporate Legal Department

The complex regulations set in motion by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 continue to impact the role of general counsel. "It's a paradox," notes Hindley-Smith. "In-house attorneys must devote more time to corporate governance issues, particularly with Section 809 of Sarbanes-Oxley, but they are also under mounting pressure to reduce spending on staff and outside counsel," said Hindley-Smith. "To curb spending, legal departments will retain utside counsel who can provide them with the highest level of service at a fair rate," added Hindley-Smith. "In esponse, law firms must look for ways to differentiate themselves."

Improving Client Service Through Technology

Technology continues to influence the practice of law as firms, solo practitioners and corporate legal departments rely on the latest technological tools to operate efficiently, better communicate with clients and compete more effectively in the courtroom. Sixty-eight percent of attorneys surveyed indicated their law firms or corporate legal departments planned to increase spending on technology over the next five years. As law firms implement web-based and wireless technologies, maintaining network security is one area, in particular, that will remain paramount in order to protect sensitive data.

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