If there was ever a more befitting term for 2023, it would be “ebb and flow.” Will there be a recession? Won’t there? As these questions arose, many industries braced for what fluctuations could and would occur within the economy — and the legal realm was no exception. But, despite the ups, downs and unknowns, Barbara Dawson, firm chair at Snell & Wilmer, feels confident in 2023 ending on a high note, with similar positivity leading into 2024. She also sees several legal industry trends to watch in 2024.

MORE NEWS: Barbara Dawson assumes chair of Snell & Wilmer

“It has been a year with many changes along the way,” Dawson says. “We started cautiously and we were a little optimistic. And over the course of the year, just as we watched the economy — we’ve seen ebbs and flows, but we haven’t seen declines as we might have planned for at the beginning of the year.”

Barbara J. Dawson assumed the role as at Snell & Wilmer’s chair, effective April 12. (AZ Big Media photo)

Legal industry trends include being adaptable

Dawson goes on to explain that remaining nimble, listening and learning from clients and their particular needs during an unpredictable economic landscape has much to do with Snell & Wilmer’s end-of-year tailwind. Diversity too, has played a part in the firm’s forward motion and success, continuing to do so heading into 2024. 

“I would say that for us, having diversity — in a lot of respects — has been extraordinarily helpful,” Dawson says. “We have diversity of geographies across our 16 offices. We have a diversity of practices and areas of expertise and serve a diverse group of industries, and that helps to weatherproof a firm because as some have up cycles, others have down cycles, and we’re able to sustain in a way where we stay good and strong because our people are in different parts of the markets in many respects.”

One area in which Dawson predicts continued traction and stability in the next year is litigation. 

“In the legal arena, generally, there’s relative consistency around predictions that the litigation side of the practice, which is up now, is likely to remain strong,” she says. “On the transactional side, what we hear from a national perspective regularly is the term ‘green shoots’ — that while there has been a decline in the activity due to the general state of the economy, there are pockets of activity that are creating optimism about more transactional side activity in 2024.”

Looking at Arizona legal industry trends

As well as litigation demonstrating strength nationally, Dawson anticipates the same close to home in Arizona. 

“I think the litigation side of the house is going to remain very strong because we have a lot of client relationships on the transactional side that are decades old,” she notes. “In many circumstances, we might’ve incorporated an entity and then seen it through the generations of its growth. We then get the call if and when litigation arises.” 

Dawson also foresees activity in transactional, real estate and intellectual property that is tied to the activities of banks and other financial institutions, that is going to ebb and flow as the economy does.” 

Arizona law predictions, according to Dawson, in all likelihood will also include an uptick natural resources and water. 

“We see so much interest not just among the traditional clients in that space, but more broadly across industries as they’re thinking about that issue with respect to Arizona and the western states where water is scarce and what happens with respect to any regulation around it is likely to have a meaningful impact.” 

Another global and regional legal trend of note is artificial intelligence (AI). According to a recent LexisNexis report, “Generative AI and the future of the legal profession, aimed to understand the current awareness and application of AI in the sector. And, while the present use seemed minimal, with just over a third (36%) of respondents suggesting that they use the tech, the projected use seemed astronomical.”

Impact of technology

Dawson sees evidence of AI becoming increasingly more utilized and multifaceted in the legal domain, observing its “rapid acceleration and importance in the legal area.” 

“But that doesn’t just mean for lawyers in law firms,” she says, “It also applies to legal departments and how their corporations should implement it and in what areas. What we’re seeing is a race for development in the AI industry to offer tools — everything from working with administrative tasks to document reviews, to predictive analysis, to risk assessment and compliance.”

Similar to the evolution of AI and its specific applications to each industry, the national and local legal climate relating to remote/hybrid employment continues to evolve and change. In late 2022, the ABA Journal reported that 87% of lawyers say their workplaces allow them to work remotely. And, while most lawyers in the report claimed that working remotely had “no adverse impact on or increased their ability to deal with biases and focus on their mental health,” they did admit that the “quality” of their relationships with co-workers were impacted. 

“We were quite honestly, completely amazed and delighted by how well remote worked during the pandemic,” Dawson says of Snell & Wilmer’s remote/hybrid work environment, adding, “We absolutely missed in-person interaction and we’re delighted to get back together and know that there’s certain learning and mentoring that is just so much stronger when you’re side by side.”

Tailor-made practice

Dawson says that the firm’s approach now and moving forward focuses on acknowledging that one size doesn’t fit all. “We really, really try and listen to what’s best for each person and what works for their team, their clients and accommodate it accordingly,” she says.

As for the broad view of what’s ahead, Dawson closes by observing that while the national economic state remains uncertain, if the ebb and flow continues, she’s not concerned. “We’re in markets where there continues to be growth and activity. So we haven’t seen the extreme down in the transactional cycle that I think has disproportionately hit folks on the East Coast.”