Economists often refer to changes that are cyclical, meaning that there is some regularity in the pattern of change and reversion, and changes that are structural. Structural changes are permanent, profound, often take effect gradually, and are sometimes hard to identify at the time. For example the demographic change of an aging population appears to be a structural shift, one that is much more permanent and deep than a cyclical swing.
For law departments, some management ideas are cyclical. I suspect that decentralization of reporting ebbs and flows in popularity. Convergence may be a cyclical swing of the pendulum as might partnering and a strong focus on cost control.
Structural changes that will affect law departments may include a shift in power and influence away from law firms. Over a number of years, off shoring may prove to be another structural change as well as unbundling services and third-party investments in law firms. Perhaps US style litigation is a structural change that will ripple out from our shores. Some people forecast that technology will transform the practice of law (See my post of Sept. 25, 2008: Cisco’s Mark Chandler with 30 references.).