fivehundred magazine > Disputes Yearbook 2024 > Groundhog Day?

Groundhog Day?

A quick scan of the inevitable January opinion pieces predicting trends in the litigation market for the year ahead gives a fairly consistent view of topics we are likely to see. Against a backdrop of continued economic and geopolitical instability, ongoing inflation, high interest rates and supply chain disruption, commentators foresee an increase in insolvency-related litigation and disputes resulting from pressure on commercial contracts. The same factors are likely to increase loan defaults and distressed debt claims. In addition, frauds inevitably emerge in the wake of failing businesses.

Commentators are similarly consistent in their observations that ESG-related litigation will likely increase due to increased regulation and undeterred shareholder activism. Lastly, no forecast is complete without referencing AI and the possible disputes that may arise from its increasing integration into our lives and the resultant regulation.

This all feels familiar. Turn the clock back a year to early 2023 and the predictions were pretty much the same. That perhaps comes as no surprise, given such predictions are a commentary on current themes coupled with educated assumptions rather than new topics dreamt up from a crystal ball. Furthermore, the economic, political, and social climate of 2024 seems little different from that of 2023. The world may not feel stable right now, but that instability is a constant in itself, and it seems likely that 2024 will be similar to 2023 in the litigation market. Thankfully, we are not (so far as we know, at least) in a year such as 2020 when everything changed. Is there a risk we are lulled into the false sense of security of thinking we know what to expect?

If you had to wager which current trend has the potential for surprise curve balls, surely it has to be generative AI. Its breakneck development speed and potential for integration into a broad range of sectors, from healthcare to manufacturing, gives it the power to create seismic changes. Following its explosion into the public consciousness in 2023 (a JP Morgan analysis paper notes that 40% of S&P 500 companies mentioned AI in their Q2 2023 earnings calls), might 2024 be the year the apocalyptic fear of malevolent robots taking over comes true? Or perhaps a new tool that finally allows us to clone our favourite associate? Perhaps not. But I don’t rule out the possibility that something dramatic happens regarding how we operate as lawyers or the litigation issues arising for our clients. Beyond the current seam of copyright infringement and data privacy claims emerging in the US, who knows what is next? Even ChatGPT can’t answer that question.

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