Editor’s Note: It’s not often that I’ll invite a marketer or SEO consultant to post at my blog because I’ll get nothing but bland content or a listicle full of backlinks to leverage my blog’s traffic. But when I came across an article by Luke Ciciliano, I was intrigued by some of his trend predictions, and so I invited him to write a post and he obliged.
I regularly speak with attorneys who realize that things have gotten tougher for the legal profession over the last few years. The big thing is that many of these attorneys aren’t really appreciating how bad things have gotten for many legal professionals and, more importantly, how quickly things are deteriorating. I recently wrote a series, on our company’s blog, discussing why a high number of law firms will fail in 2017 and in the coming years. Unfortunately, I’m afraid quite a few attorneys are going to find their story looking like this:
I’ll use the space in this article to quickly lay out the shape that the legal profession is in. I’ll then discuss why things are going to get tough for personal injury and employment law attorneys in particular. Then I’ll wrap up with a few other considerations. First, I’d like to shout a big thanks to Carolyn Elefant of Myshingle.com for allowing me to write this piece. Now let’s get to it.
The numbers don’t lie in terms of what’s going on in the legal profession. In December of 2006 the U.S. legal services sector employed 1,161,400 people[i]. By December of 2016 that number was down to 1,126,100[ii]. So in ten years the profession lost 35,300 jobs. Guess what else the profession did during that time? It added 198,594 attorneys[iii]. Laws get changed all the time but those two pesky rules, known as supply and demand, haven’t changed. A big reduction in jobs, combined with a big increase in the labor supply, results in a lot of attorneys singing a sad song. Oh……by the way, the legal profession lost roughly another 1,000 jobs in the first two months of 2017. Now while I don’t mean too sound like the bringer of doom – it’s important that you understand that these trends are about to get much, much, much, much (much) worse. So that this article doesn’t turn into something absurdly long I’m going to focus on developments in personal injury and employment law as examples. You’ll see that the developments, which created the employment trends I just mentioned, are accelerating.
Personal injury firms will see a dramatic decrease in business in 2017
Personal injury is often seen as a lucrative area but the truth is that things have been harder for PI attorneys over the last several years. Improvements in automotive safety have greatly reduced the amount of harm people suffer in car wrecks. Consider that the number of people killed in car crashes decreased from 43,510 in 2005 to 35,092 in 2015[iv]. This 19 percent decrease in fatalities occurred even though the total number of miles driven in the U.S. increased by eight percent during that same time frame. In other words, things have been getting tougher for PI firms for several years.
The thing to understand is that the continuing improvements in automotive safety will be kicking into high gear in 2017. Driverless technology has begun to arrive in incremental stages. The first of these stages is automated “front crash prevention” in which the car automatically stops before getting into a rear end collision. This type of technology has been shown to reduce rear end collisions by up to 40 percent[v]. This is important because, previously, you had to buy an expensive car to get this type of technology. In 2017, however, it became available on cheaper models such as the Toyota Corolla. Also, auto makers have vowed to make this technology standard by 2022[vi]. The U.S. currently suffers 1.7 million rear end collisions per year[vii]. If just ten percent of the cars on the road have this technology then that reduces the number of annual rear-end collisions by 68,000 per year. Given that I know two people who have purchased cars with this tech in the last several months, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re already at that ten percent adoption rate. We will quickly go up from there.
This is just one of many examples of how things will be getting tougher for PI firms. Now let’s look at what’s happening to employment law attorneys.
Employment law lawyers will also see a decline in business in 2017
Employment law attorneys handle cases based on “employment” (duh). Here’s the thing – employment is on the decline in the U.S. and it’s about to decline a whole lot further in rapid fashion. Consider that in 1998, U.S. workers put in a total of 194 billion hours. Fifteen years later, in 2013, U.S. workers produced 42 percent more in goods and services (adjusted for inflation) then they did in 1998 and they worked 194 billion hours[viii]. Advances in technology mean that employers are doing more with less and that they need fewer workers. This has led to less work for employment law attorneys.
Between 1997 and 2016 the number of disputes filed with the E.E.O.C. increased by only thirteen percent[ix]. During this same time the number of attorneys in the U.S. increased by 38 percent[x]. The trend of employers doing more with less is only accelerating. As one of many examples, Wendy’s has announced that it is adding self-ordering kiosks to 1,000 of its restaurants in 2017 in order to reduce labor costs[xi]. Last time I checked automated kiosks weren’t likely to get hurt on the job or file some type of employment law dispute. The amount of work for employment law attorneys is going to be going down!
Other technology related factors will drastically reduce the number of law firms in 2017 and beyond
This article has barely scratched the surface of why things are about to get bad, real fast, for the legal profession. Surviving the coming storm is going to require that you shore up your business practices through better law firm management, providing top notch service to your clients, and smarter marketing. At SEO For Lawyers we make sure our clients are aware of these trends so that they can prepare themselves accordingly.
A big thanks again to Carolyn and Myshingle.com for allowing us to write this piece.
Luke Ciciliano is a founding member of SEO For Lawyers and has been helping attorneys grow their practices since 2011. Luke’s writing focuses on business trends impacting the legal profession as well as tips for smarter marketing.
His company is https://www.seo-for-lawyers.com
[i] Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2006 Report: Accessed at: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_01052007.pdf
[ii] Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2016 Report: Accessed at: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_01062017.pdf
[iii] ABA National Lawyer Population Survey: Accessed at:
[iv] Wikipedia List Of U.S. Motor Vehicle Deaths Per Year: Accessed at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in_U.S._by_year
[v] IIHS: Crashes avoided Front crash prevention slashes police-reported rear-end crashes: Accessed at: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/news/desktopnews/crashes-avoided-front-crash-prevention-slashes-police-reported-rear-end-crashes
[vi] Consumer Reports: Virtually All New Cars to Have Standard Automatic Emergency Braking by 2022; http://www.consumerreports.org/car-safety/all-new-cars-to-have-standard-automatic-emergency-braking/
[vii] CNBC: Ford aims for self-driving car with no gas pedal, no steering wheel in 5 years, CEO says; http://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/09/ford-aims-for-self-driving-car-with-no-gas-pedal-no-steering-wheel-in-5-years-ceo-says.html
[viii] Martin Ford: Rise of the Robots – Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, Conclusion Section
[ix] EEOC Charge Statistics – https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/charges.cfm
[x] See citation no. 3