09 January 2020

6 trends to look out for in 2020

This article was originally published by Emma Ryan for Lawyers Weekly on 9 January 2020.

A surge in negligence claims against lawyers and increasing pressure on Australian employers to publicly disclose any gender pay gap are among the six trends the profession can expect to see in 2020, according to Sydney-based law firm Bartier Perry.

Bartier Perry CEO Riana Steyn said the firm has identified six trends which will play out in Australia’s legal landscape this year.

“There’s always a risk in making predictions but we’ve examined what’s happening both here and internationally in evaluating demographic, social, cultural and technological developments that will have legal implications. Partners then apply that in the context of what they see happening in the industries and clients they advise,” said Ms Steyn.

“From a cultural perspective, a rise in negligence claims against lawyers and other professionals, and employees making claims against an algorithm reflect changing client and employee behaviour and workplace practices.

“We’ve also looked to not simply talk about the trends themselves but their implications. In the case of increasing pressure on Australia to align with or adopt UK legislation forcing companies to publish gender pay data, those implications may have unexpected consequences.” 

The six trends set to play out, according to Bartier Perry, are:

1. A rise in family business disputes as generational succession gets messy

Australia is about to face the battle of the bulge when it comes to intergenerational family business succession, according to private clients partner Chris Tsovolos.

“Within the next 10 years close to 4 million retiring baby boomers will take part in the largest ever exodus from the Australian workforce. And with close to two-thirds of Australia’s 2.1 million workplaces classified as family owned, just how orderly this demographic bulge of boomers exit their businesses could have a profound impact on our economy.”

2. Modern slavery to emerge as a major reputational issue

Corporate partner Michael Cossetto said while the vast majority of Australian companies want to do the right thing in ensuring there is no use of forced labour across their global supply chains, a lack of clarity in newly introduced legislation could put companies at risk this year.

3. Professional negligence claims to soar as royal commissions and inquiries put the spotlight on culture and behaviour

“We are living in an age of inquiries, where some of our most trusted institutions are being put under the microscope,” partner Katherine Ruschen said.

“In the last three to four years we’ve seen an upsurge in complaints against financial, legal, health and other professionals as consumers and clients become more aware of their rights.

"Of course many of these complaints will be without foundation but that will make them no less stressful to manage.”

4. The death of the holiday timeshare

“Many of us will remember the hard-sell seminars we attended (often as bored kids) pitching us the concept of owning your own little slice of paradise,” writes partner Gavin Stuart.

“But an increasingly uneconomic and unpopular model means timeshare days may be numbered. But exactly how do you unwind an agreement between 500-plus people?”

5. Algorithms get taken to court by disgruntled workers

In years past artificial intelligence was seen as the perfect unbiased recruiter, according to workplace law and culture partner Darren Gardner.

“Now even some of the world’s biggest technology companies are quietly shutting down their AI recruitment programmes after algorithms excluded candidates on the basis of gender. But as AI gains greater dominance in our working lives could employee’s ire switch from a human boss to machines with increasing sway over their day-to-day supervision?”

6. Debate around remuneration transparency. Is it the answer to closing the gender pay gap?

Ms Steyn flagged that as of right now, men still outearn women by an average of $25,679 a year and that compensation chasm only grows the further up the ladder you go”.

To end this, Ms Steyn said, NSW Women Lawyers Association [is] among those driving the debate about increased transparency through gender pay gap reporting and the possibility of Australia adopting the UK model of remuneration transparency”.

She said: “Since 2017 it has been mandatory for UK companies with 250-plus employees to publish and report on pay equity or their ‘pay gap’ each year. But is that such a good idea?”