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At a glance:
2020 was a tough year for the business world, and despite its reputation for resilience, the legal sector was no exception. According to PwC's Annual Law Firms 2020 survey, the average number of chargeable hours fell in Top 10 and 25 firms for almost all grades of staff (which sat between 2-11%).
The same survey also revealed the financial burden many partners within law firms have taken on. Three quarters (77%) of Top 100 firms said they are deferring distributions to partners and 54% admitted to reducing partner drawings, while forced annual leave, deferring pay rises and the elimination of bonuses have become commonplace for employees.
To help legal firms identify and evaluate areas for growth, LexisNexis partnered up with the Bar Council to create the GLP Index 2020, which provides an evidence-based framework for evaluating legal growth and demand.
These five practice areas are experiencing growth:
Unlike some other practice areas, legal demand for employment has exploded in 2020. During the first
half of the year, managing the implementation of furlough schemes drove intense legal activity. As these
schemes have become business as usual, the legal work needed to support them has diminished. Instead,
we are now starting to see the long-expected wave of job losses and redundancies wash through, as
companies reassess their employment policies and make longer-term resourcing decisions. This is
reflected in an increasing the Q4 2020 redundancy rate (+213% vs Q4 2019).
Unsurprisingly, the volume of contentious work has grown significantly during the course of COVID-19,
given the difficult decisions companies have needed to make in response to the pandemic. Total cases
are up +17% over the year, with claims for breach of contract (+4%) and unfair dismissal (+8%) also
seeing growth. We expect the areas that have driven growth during the crisis to maintain this trajectory in 2021.
Read more: 3 trends driving demand for Employment law during the pandemic
Corporate has had a volatile but overall positive year, with IPOs (+39% on the LSE’s Alternative
Investment Market) the biggest driver of growth.
The main driver for corporate in 2020 was the enormous growth in IPOs, bonds and financing. In Q4,
IPOs listed on the UK Main Market grew by 157% and those listed on AIM grew by 433%. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) fell for 2020 as a whole by 27%, however, there were signs of this softening in Q4.
An economic boom in 2021 should see M&A activity return to previous levels, or perhaps even
Learn more about the huge soar in demand for corporate law during 2020
Tax performed well throughout 2020, with the pandemic making both business and personal tax
arrangements more complicated, generating plenty of work for tax professionals.
The first two quarters of 2020 brought a huge volume of work for tax teams in law firms - largely
managing the tax implications of the Government’s bailout schemes. While work has slowed down
in H2 2020, we can see that the core of tax work has returned to being reasonably
buoyant and healthy.
There has been significant growth during COVID-19 in the number of individuals paying the
additional tax rate (+14%). While the impact of COVID-19 and launch of Government support schemes severely suppressed
both company formations and closures in early 2020, these had turned a corner by Q4 2020. The
decline in the number of public company dissolutions and incorporations has softened considerably,
while LLPs have seen more churn – incorporations (+1%) and dissolutions (+15%) both grew in
Q4 2020, creating plenty of tax work.
We anticipate that the core of tax work will bounce back even more strongly in 2021 as traditional business activity returns.
Read more about the growing demand for tax law expertise.
With the pandemic accelerating companies' digital transformation roadmaps, 2020 has been the year of data security and has resulted in a huge volume of work for risk and compliance. As a result, the practice area experienced double digit growth in every quarter of 2020, which has been driven by enormous changes in individual and business behaviour.
The growth of online shopping behaviours have brought plenty of risk and compliance issues, particularly around data privacy and
cybersecurity. Retail companies have had to work out how to rapidly expand their online operations
The number of new regulations grew considerably (+11%),
generating plenty of work for compliance lawyers and adding to an already busy year.
In the longer-term, the traditional work of risk and compliance will return, with an expected increase of ICO activity in 2021.
Find out why the demand for risk and compliance law will continue post-pandemic
Commercial is a particularly resilient, counter-cyclical practice area, and the challenges faced by
companies during COVID-19 have generated a great deal of work for the companies’ lawyers.
A range of macroeconomic metrics show that general economic and
business health fell (but perhaps not by as much as you’d expect) in 2020. GDP is down (-10%), but we
expect a sharp recovery in 2021 as the economy re-opens. Likewise, the FTSE 100 index (down 19% in
2020) is likely to rebound significantly.
In the meantime, company profits have remained resilient.
The COVID-19 pandemic has generated a huge volume of work for companies, particularly managing the
unprecedented furlough scheme for employees. This meant the in-house legal function of businesses
have been incredibly busy, which has in turn generated demand for advisory work for the commercial
teams at law firms. Companies are hungry for legal advice and insight in order to interpret the fastchanging picture throughout the crisis and beyond.
In the longer-term, the economy and general business activity will bounce back in 2021, generating even more work in this practice area.
Why commercial law teams should consider diversifying their services
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