The Changing Legal Business Climate

There have been a number of articles in the local press over the past six months discussing various issues in the local business climate. This essay attempts to take several of those issues and analyze them to draw conclusions about the future of the legal business. The issues are the declining population in New Hampshire, the emergence of a solely service based economy, and the attitude of the next “millennial” generation of consumers. All this adds up to a fairly radical shift in the legal business climate in New Hampshire.

It is clear from the data that New Hampshire is growing older and shrinking in terms of numbers. There are fewer students in the schools and fewer young professionals that are choosing to settle in New Hampshire. We can also conclude from those two factors that younger professionals are not starting families immediately after graduating from college. This has been a trend for some time. It creates a less diversified population with legal needs that are different from years past. There will be more individuals seeking estate planning and elder law advice. There will be fewer criminal cases due to an aging population that is less likely to offend. Even the divorce numbers will be down due to the fact that fewer people are choosing to enter marriage as part of their increasingly complicated adult relationships.

Our economy is increasingly less manufacturing based. The local weather and skilled work force is far more adapted to a service based economy than it is to a manufacturing economy. It seems increasingly unlikely that the manufacturing base for the economy will ever occupy the space that it has in generations past. Foreign labor markets with less expensive labor costs dominate the production end. Our economy has no choice but to focus on services whether they be web based jobs writing code or spinoff services such as restaurants, healthcare and the functions of everyday life and home. Growth for these types of jobs are focused more on the large urban centers such as Boston while the smaller cities such as those in New Hampshire have been relatively flat for service economy job growth.

The question arises “What does this mean for the legal community in New Hampshire looking forward?” The trends observed are that people are avoiding litigation like never before. Consumers are no longer willing or able to spend the money on litigation as they have been in the past. Less resources are available to do so and the prospect of gaining real satisfaction from litigation are limited. Instead, people are choosing to live leaner and more efficient lifestyles that avoid conflict wherever possible. There are fewer people willing to initiate litigation.

There are simply fewer resources available in the local economy to be spent on legal services. There was an influx of lawyers in the community approximately five to ten years ago. It would appear that abundance is dwindling due to the lack of “low hanging fruit” in terms of legal fees. There is always room for another good lawyer one supposes, but it is clear that some level of contraction has taken place with respect to the supply of lawyers.

The conclusion that can be drawn from analyzing these factors together is that there will be slow and minimal growth in the area over the next ten years or so. This is not necessarily a bad thing. There will be less work and a different type of work but the quality is likely to get better. Those lawyers and firms who are willing to stick it out and work hard for their fees will produce a better product and still be successful. Those that embrace the change and are willing to adapt quickly will have the most success.

By: Kent Barker

Wrongful Death Cases

New Hampshire law, RSA 556:12 [] entitles the estate of someone whose death was wrongfully caused by another to receive monetary compensation from the responsible party. If there is no family, the estate’s recovery is limited to a maximum of $50,000.00. If the deceased left family, there is no maximum recovery for the estate. The compensation to which an estate is entitled is the sum of the value of:

  1. The mental and physical pain suffered by the deceased because of the injury.
  2. The financial expenses caused to the estate by the injury (medical bills and funeral expenses).
  3. The net lifetime earnings lost by the estate (earning capacity minus necessary living expenses).
  4. The years of life of which the deceased was probably deprived.

This law also provides that the surviving spouse and any minor children of the deceased their own right to recover for the loss of their loved one by the wrongful act of another. However, the statute limits a spouse’s recovery to a maximum of $150,000.00 and each minor child’s recovery to $50,000.00.

The estate and the surviving spouse have three years within which to settle or bring suit against the responsible party. Thereafter, the right to such a claim is lost. A minor child’s right to make such a claim would continue until the child’s 20th birthday.

By:  Peter G. Webb