THE MSBA’S FALL/WINTER 2022 TRENDS REPORT WAS THE MOST COMPREHENSIVE YET, INCLUDING DATA ON TRENDS IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION NATIONALLY AND IN MARYLAND, news impacting firms and lawyers throughout the state over the past six months, and insights into the future of the legal industry. The information compiled overwhelmingly indicates that while the end of the pandemic is in sight, many of the changes brought about by the pandemic are here to stay. Firms have largely embraced the hybrid and remote work models, with some firms using such models as an incentive when trying to recruit attorneys.
In turn, firms have become more reliant on technology and there are increased concerns about cybersecurity. Many firms have experienced difficulties hiring attorneys, and while Maryland has the second largest number of attorneys per capita, the overall number of lawyers has decreased slightly. While there is a struggle to increase or maintain diversity in the legal profession throughout the country, Maryland is ahead of the curve with regard to diversity in the courts, and diversity remains a priority throughout the state.
While there has been a slight decrease in the number of active attorneys in Maryland in the last six months, Maryland boasts the second highest number of attorneys per capita in the nation, bested only by New York. Like many industries, law firms have faced labor short- ages in recent months. Some Maryland firms are attempting to attract staff and attorneys by offering them the options of working from home and developing their own schedules within certain parameters.
Remote and hybrid work has become more mainstream in law firms across Maryland, rather than a novelty or by product of the pandemic, and many firms intend to maintain flexible work environments for the foreseeable future. There has also been a marked increase in Maryland firms conducting interviews, depositions, mediations, and other business via video and teleconferences. Such proceedings were typically conducted in person prior to the pandemic, but firms are continuing to hold virtual hearings and meetings even if they no longer harbor health concerns about meeting in person.
Among other things, the transition to remote and hybrid work inspired Maryland attorneys to seek increased guidance and education with regard to the intersection of technology and the practice of law. For example, the Maryland State Bar Association Committee on Ethics recently fielded the question of whether attorneys could accept cryptocurrency as a retainer, and if so, how it should handle it.
While most firms have embraced remote and hybrid work, some people in the legal industry have expressed concerns that the hybrid work models may adversely affect women and minority attorneys. Meredith J. Kahan, Esq., Chief Legal Talent Officer at Whiteford Taylor & Preston LLP, recently noted that, “with some attorneys in the office, employees who choose to work remotely may be disfavored,” in a blog post entitled Will Hybrid Work Models Hamper the Diversity Efforts at Legal Organizations? She elaborated, “because of proximity, habit, and the unconscious preference for the familiar, there may be a bias in favor of those who are working physically in the office every day.” This may negatively impact women and attorneys of color, as studies indicate they prefer to work from home.
There is evidence that the Maryland legal profession is continuing to make concerted efforts to increase and maintain diversity, however. International firm Hogan Lovells, which has a location in Baltimore, and national firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP, which has a location in Rockville, were named part of the Bloomberg Law Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Framework, a listing of law firms that meet or exceed a rising standard for diversity, equity, and inclusion in their firm, measured by the benchmarks of: Leadership & Talent Pipelines, Recruitment & Retention, Business Innovation & Strategy, Bias & Harassment Training, and Diverse Brand.
After David Shapiro, a partner at Paley Rothman in Bethesda, took over the role of MSBA president, he indicated that his top priorities included the expansion of diversity in the MSBA, with the aim of improving the legal profession in Maryland for attorneys and their clients. Additionally, the Maryland CareyLaw Women, Leadership, and Equality (WLE) Program launched a new webinar series Maryland Carey LawAlumnae Leading the Way, that aims to offer a vehicle for pass- ing important knowledge from one generation to the next.
Maryland courts demonstrate greater diversity as well. The Brennan Center for Justice’s State Supreme CourtDiversity Update issued in May 2022 shows that the Supreme Court of Maryland is one of the most diverse state supreme courts in the nation. 43% of Maryland’s high court judges are people of color, and 57% of the judges are women, which is much high- er than the national averages of 18% people of color and 41% women in the state supreme court judiciary.
The Diversity Report cited the appointment of Justice Angela Eaves to the Supreme Court of Maryland as a notable event. Eaves, who is Panamanian and Black, is Maryland’s first Hispanic justice.