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Is the future role of a solicitor O Shaped?

Is the future role of a solicitor O Shaped?

Charlotte Lear

24/01/2022

Reading time: three minutes

The Solicitor’s Qualifying Exam (SQE) has essentially revolutionised the way you qualify as a solicitor.

Rather than the traditional route of Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) + Legal Practice Course (LPC) + a two-year training contract, the road to qualification is now highly flexible: Qualifying Work Experience (QWE), though still having to add up to two years, can be done in a wider variety of settings.

Check out this LCN Says: ‘How to get Qualifying Work Experience.’

This means you don’t have to stay in one place for the whole duration; the exams have been distilled into two:

  • much longer exams costing on average £1500 (SQE1); and
  • £2500 (SQE).

Read this LCN Says: ‘SQE qualifying work experience FAQs.’

Respectively there’s no professional skills course; no need for that highly competitive training contract, and each step can be taken on your own terms without any time pressure or constraint.

Now, despite the financial side still not making space for the access we need in the industry, this shift has reflected the changing role of a solicitor.

The O Shaped Lawyer

Another way of encapsulating this change is a project, founded in 2019 by some of the leading General Counsel’s in the country, called the O Shaped Lawyer. Just a quick side note, General Counsel is the title given to a company’s chief legal advisor; they tend to work in-house such as the leader of the ‘O’, Dan Kayne, who is GC at Network Rail (Regions).

The project is based on a large survey of GC’s and firms across the country, who were interviewed for what they look for in a solicitor in the ever-changing legal landscape.

The results largely focused on behavioural qualities that lawyers now need to be successful in navigating the world of business.

Among these include:

  • adaptability;
  • the ability to build relationships; and
  • the ability to create value through the legal initiative.

One key thing that stands out from the report is that a lot of your success as a lawyer now rests on your interpersonal skills. The role of a solicitor has evolved and is evolving, being that of a business advisor.

Yes, the ‘business’ element is still relevant; if anything it is now a given – legal expertise and keen technical skills are still fundamentally necessary to being a good lawyer. But it’s the advisor element that I want to unpack further.

Advisor element

To appropriately advise and offer tailored advice that, critically, is going to achieve success for the client, the lawyer in this situation needs to have an excellent relationship with their client.

With an excellent relationship established, you can get to the bottom of what makes the business tick, what the main goals are to achieve and how you can provide trusted advice on these matters. This creates value and thus drives progress and growth.

Tailored commercial advice is at the heart of what a lawyer does, but it’s a high level of interpersonal skills that allow them to get to that point in the first place. Trust can be established through empathy and understanding.

Therefore, the O is the way it is – it’s a cycle of skills that feed into each other. They work together to provide an excellent package of advice for the client and help the lawyer themselves to develop as a person instead of being bundled into this corporate machine that previously celebrated a culture of assimilation of stereotype. It’s a win-win situation.

Finally

That’s not to say that, if you’re studying right now, you should take your foot of the gas – academic integrity and technical ability are still vital. However, what is increasingly important now, is looking up from that textbook occasionally and actively seeking out opportunities that nurture your interpersonal skills and individuality.