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Crystal Ball, Oh, Crystal Ball: What I See for 2021

Vivia Chen

December 30, 2020

John_William_Waterhouse_-_The_Crystal_BallNever have I been so happy to take out my crystal ball and peer into the new year. I think I speak for many when I say we are so done with 2020. Here's what I see for the legal profession in 2021:

Steve Kornacki will set the fashion standards for Big Law. Forget Ferragamo, Hermes, Zegna and Armani. The new power look is strictly Gap and Foot Locker: khakis, rumpled cotton shirt and sneakers. It's the total Kornacki, and it's totally irresistible. The look is practical, comfy and not gender-binding (the uniform is adaptable for men and women)—conveying an insouciant, nerdy chic that's ideal for Big Law attorneys.

Men will insist on working from home. Now that men realize they can negotiate megadeals and draft complex contracts without setting foot in the office and encasing themselves in starched shirts, choking ties and constraining suits (see: Kornacki fashion note, above), they will insist on flexible working arrangements. In fact, they will insist it's much more efficient. And, voilà, flexibility won't be stigmatized as a mommy thing anymore!

Meanwhile, women will be clamoring to go back to the office. Because husbands all over America won't leave the house and are hogging every inch of feasible working space—the dining room table, the living room sofa, kitchen counters and the matrimonial bed—women will demand that office attendance be mandatory. Really, it's a mental health issue.

Every law firm will boast sleek, exquisite offices. Firm websites will feature photos of soaring glass atriums, conference rooms composed of exotic woods and limestone washrooms worthy of Aman Resorts. No worries about the cost, because none of this will exist in reality. Firms will buy stock photos or generate composite images of stunning interiors. That means even firms with depressing offices (like Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan's in New York) can project fabulousness! It's not like anyone will go to an actual brick-and-mortar office anytime soon. (Sorry, ladies.)

Law firms will swear they're really, really serious about diversity. Every firm will have a designated DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) expert, though the mandate of that job (agent of change or party planner?) won't be clear. Firms will distribute copies of "White Fragility" and host rounds of town halls and listening sessions on race. Partners will be required to participate in monthly "take-a-minority-associate-to-lunch" day. Firms will talk about DEI at every opportunity, though no one knows exactly what it means.

Ambitious women will be obliged to produce more babies—a lot more. It won't be acceptable for female lawyers on the fast track to have just one or two kids. (And if you're childless, you're now persona non grata.) The reason: Amy Coney Barrett has upped the ante. Truly successful women will manage to pop out enough bambini to fill a minivan—let's say at least four—while vaulting to the top of the profession in record time. Hey, if Coney Barrett can ascend to the highest court in the land with seven kids in tow, what's your excuse?

Partners will never leave. If Donald Trump won't go quietly even when the American people vote him out, why shouldn't law firm partners dig in if they're ousted too? It doesn't matter if it's because they've hit the mandatory retirement age, been caught behaving inappropriately, or showed signs of dementia or incompetency. Take the cue from Trump: make a stink, cry foul, call a press conference and hire Rudy Giuliani to argue your case. You might lose the fight ultimately, but why not make hell along the way?

White men will always think they've done a great job. Whether it's promoting gender equality or diversity, men at the top will continue to give themselves high marks. Meanwhile, women and minorities will give these managers barely passing marks and sigh. So it's business as usual. Just the way Big Law likes it.

Related post: A Year to Forget: The Careerist's Most-Talked-About Posts for 2020

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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