Trainees take on 2024
2023 was a year of change, with the Coronation of King Charles III, COVID-19 finally losing its pandemic status and continued economic and political instability across the globe.
Last year, the RPC Trainees set out their bold predictions for 2023 with some coming true (the Super Mario Movie really was a huge success) and others falling short, such as the optimistic predictions that interest rates would fall by the end of the year and that the metaverse would mature quick enough that the 2023 Trainee intake would be inducted completely virtually.
Below, the RPC Trainees are back with their predictions for the year ahead. 2024 is set to be filled with many international events, from the Paris Olympics to several high stakes elections. The Trainees give their thoughts on how businesses will fare in light of rising operating costs, generative AI shifting into practical use, and how environmental concerns will factor into many decisions in 2024.
At the time of publishing the Trainee's take on 2023, we predicted that interest rates had peaked (at 4%). Sadly, this was optimistic, with interest rates sitting at 5.25% at the end of 2023. However, it is likely (and we mean it this time) that interest rates will fall in 2024 – with projections suggesting a possible fall to around 2.5% by the second half of the year. In practical terms, this makes borrowing cheaper, which tends to encourage consumer spending and business investment.
Interest rates are not the only factor affecting business and the economy. Rising operating costs caused a 40% increase in business insolvencies in the first half of 2023. Construction and retail were the hardest hit, while high street shops have weathered the combination of high business rates, low consumer confidence, and lower footfall. These issues are likely to carry into 2024. Further, 2023 saw an increase in the price of goods and services (caused by, among other factors, Brexit, global recovery from the pandemic, and the war in Ukraine), with a particularly sharp increase in the cost of food and energy prices. Growing inflation caused a rise in employee wages – adding to the existing pressures on businesses to cut costs to make ends meet.
However, we don't think it's all doom and gloom: the UK avoided a recession in 2023, inflation is due to fall, and wage growth is set to slow down. This may cause a drop in services inflation (ie the cost of living), and overall, RPC Trainees hope to see some modest economic growth in 2024.
Lights! Cameras! (Strike) Action!
2023 saw industrial action from by actors and writers, effectively shuttering Hollywood over several months. This curtailed studios' ability to produce and promote, which may have a knock-on effect on the volume of releases in 2024. However, some studios and indie projects were still able to keep cameras rolling throughout the shutdown by demonstrating their independence from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. The Trainees predict that 2024 will be a challenging year for many production companies but we could see breakout hits for smaller, indie productions.
Content goes global
Audience interest in foreign-language content appears to be on the rise, particularly among English-speaking countries. Streaming giants have certainly seen success with Korean content, and 2024 looks set to hold further cultural highlights from the land of the morning calm. The Trainees expect that foreign-language film and music will continue to grow steadily, maintaining a cycle of cultural imports and exports across the globe.
Taylor Swift has reportedly already broken the $1bn mark with her three-hour run-time Eras Tour while Beyonce's Renaissance World Tour had critics on mute. Both artists also produced sleek concert movies on top of touring, giving fans access to the concert experience in cinemas and from the comfort of their own homes. These concerts have broken barriers and created blueprints for other artists to follow.
With Swift's Eras tour continuing and other pop sensations set to hit the stage, we think that 2024 will continue the trend of big-budget concerts and accompanying cinema releases.
A busy sporting calendar awaits. After a disappointing summer, England's men's cricket team will be hoping to re-find their form ahead of their title defence at the T20 World Cup, the Three Lions will be looking to follow in the Lionesses' footsteps with victory at the Euros, and Wembley will play host to the UEFA Champions League and Challenge Cup finals.
Undoubtedly, the biggest sporting event of the year will be the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Parisian economy will be the biggest winner of the Games, with sponsors, including LVMH and EDF, also hoping to capitalise on their investment into the games. The Trainees predict that the Paris Games will also be an opportunity for the next wave of influencer-athletes to emerge onto the world stage, creating more Olympic and Paralympic social media content than ever before.
We expect the rise of women's sport to continue in 2024. It is anticipated that, for the first time ever, women's elite sport will generate over $1 billion in revenue, and there will be a continued increase in media coverage of women's sport. The Paris Games also promise to be the first Olympic and Paralympic Games with gender parity in terms of the number of participants.
The environment will also continue to be an important topic in the sport sector. Paris 2024 promises to be the "greenest games" yet. The organising committee has made ambitious plans to host a carbon neutral, zero waste and zero single-use plastic event. While this is a positive step, spectators and athletes will travel from across the world to the event and so the true success of this environmental strategy remains to be seen.
2023 was an explosive year for technology with Generative AI ("GenAI") in particular receiving significant investment. Tools such as ChatGPT and Bard burst into the mainstream, winding their way into everyday conversation. The Trainees believe 2024 will see GenAI scale from creative ideas into real-world, practical applications. As companies put GenAI tools to work they will also stand to benefit from using more data from a greater variety of sources and in more flexible ways. Whether shopping online or controlling smart homes, the Trainees believe that next-gen voice assistants are likely to become more effective at replicating human conversation.
As AI capability is harnessed, greater attention may also turn to the problems it poses. Debate rages on about the ethical implications for job safety, increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks may cause companies to put a renewed emphasis on training staff and boosting businesses' in-house security. Businesses' policies on AI may also need to be standardised to prevent piecemeal adoption of new technologies by individual employees. Conversely, technology will likely form a key part of cyber risks, creating an uptake in phishing attacks as criminals rely on social engineering to exploit vulnerabilities that human interaction allows.
Not wanting to leave you short-chAInged, we offer three final predictions:
- Drone deliveries will start to become commonplace, impacting retailers, logistics platforms and medical centres alike.
- The benefits of quantum computing will begin to become apparent in compute-heavy fields such as drug discovery, the exploration of new material sciences and financial services.
- And finally, in a year full of democratic elections across the globe, deepfakes will flood the internet causing confusion and creating (even more) questionable recordings of politicians.
Legal in England & Wales
AI in law
There is no doubt that AI will continue to dominate the legal headlines in 2024, with law firms cautiously keen to adopt AI technologies to improve efficiencies in a challenging economic climate. The recent SRA Risk Outlook Report addressed the advantages and risks of the technology for the legal sector and noted that guidance will be produced on specific issues as and when they arise. 2024 may be the year in which the parameters for using AI in a legal context are set.
Gloomy economic and turbulent political forecasts for 2024 may not be all bad news for law firms, with certain practice areas set to benefit. Take restructuring and insolvency, for instance, which has seen a growing demand for legal services as a result of record company insolvencies over the last two years. There is every reason to believe this trend may continue into 2024 and beyond.
It was said that the COVID-19 "Zoom revolution" had changed the nature of the lawyer/client relationship forever. However, the Trainees are hearing not so quiet whispers that face-to-face meetings are back on clients' agendas. Whether this is the result of video call fatigue or a desire for the return of pre-pandemic facetime (or a combination of both) is unknown, but the Trainees welcome the prospect of face-to-face client contact.
Following the chaotic end to 2022, 2023 at least saw the return to some stability as there was only one Prime Minister in office throughout the whole year. There was still, nonetheless, plenty of industrial unrest with one Trainee's prediction from last year about strikes lasting well into the summer ringing true.
However, RPC Trainees predict that this is likely to take a drastic change this year in light of confirmation that a UK general election will take place in 2024. The election, including the six-week campaigning period, will undoubtedly be the political focus of the year. If the final result reflects the current position in opinion polls and the outcome of last year's local elections, most of the Trainees predict a new Prime Minister from a new party to take office.
There will also be continued political pressure on whoever succeeds in the 2024 UK general election to grow and boost the UK economy following its sluggish growth and record-high interest rates. A leader from a new party will certainly have a different economic outlook but we will have to wait and see whether that will result in drastic economic reform. One Trainee is predicting that this could result in tax increases for many middle-income workers, but most are predicting that any leader will exercise caution, at least for 2024, before introducing any sweeping reforms.
On the international stage, the continuing of conflicts in Europe and the Middle East is likely to put diplomacy and foreign policy at centre stage with the Trainees agreeing that the UK is likely to play a continued important role in reaching a solution to these conflicts, if one can be reached.
The Trainees expect 2024 to be a crucial year for the environment and climate change. Environmental protests have been increasing in frequency and intensity, demanding more ambitious and urgent policies from governments and corporations regarding deforestation, fossil fuel subsidies, plastic pollution, and biodiversity loss.
The cost of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydro have been decreasing, alongside their ongoing improvements in efficiency and reliability. Clean energy is also growing as a source of innovation, job creation, and economic growth. Many countries have set targets to increase their share of clean energy in their electricity mix, with some pledging to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. Nuclear power, on the other hand, will face challenges and opportunities, as some countries plan to phase out their reactors while others invest in new technologies and fuels.
The end of 'forever chemicals'?
In other news, 2023 saw gaining traction around the banning of polyfluoroalkyl substances ("PFAs") also known as "forever chemicals". PFAs are chemicals which do not degrade over time and so are useful in products such as medical devices. However, this means that they accumulate in the environment and can now be found "in penguins in the Antarctic, in polar bears in the Artic, even in the rainwater in Tibet". In February 2023, five EU member-states submitted a proposal to ban over 10,000 PFAs. In April 203 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published the results of an assessment of the use of PFAs in the UK and its recommendation to ban hundreds of PFAs. Entering 2024, RPC Trainees predict regulatory reforms around PFAs and the first wave of bans, with fire-fighting foam as the first product likely to be targeted.