updated on 19 July 2019
We’re long past the days when law firms making use of disruptive tech was just a distant prediction. A handful of years ago, news stories of firms implementing advanced tech in everyday processes were relatively scarce – but now, we’re seeing announcements from major firms come out on an increasingly regular basis. Whether it’s one major law firm opening a lawtech incubator in May, or another launching new ‘virtual reality’ legal internships aimed at improving social mobility just last month, we’re in the midst of genuine change – and the proof can be clearly seen.
Unfortunately though, it’s all too easy to view technological development in a vacuum – that the same lawyers will continue to do the same jobs in exactly the same way and the only thing that will change is their jobs getting easier and improvements being made to the firm’s bottom line. In reality though, it’s more complicated. The legal sector is being shaken up and along with it, so are law firms’ priorities. It’s therefore important for those working in the sector, as well as those just starting their job search now, to be aware of the skills that are being increasingly valued by law firms.
Given all the chatter around artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years, this one should come as no surprise. It comes up time and time again. As the more menial, process-driven tasks are increasingly handled by robots – such as sifting through swathes of court documents or being able to find obscure clauses buried in case law – ‘softer skills’ such as the ability to build interpersonal relationships, network and proficiency in managing a range of clients, rather than just a few are being increasingly valued. These soft skills are one of the factors that set the current generation of lawyers apart from the previous generation, complementing the service being offered to clients.
Lawyers younger and older, therefore, should make sure they’re taking their development of these skills into their own hands. Get out and practice them – or, if you can’t quite so much, read books on how to improve, attend classes and online courses. A benefit of living in an increasingly online and tech-savvy world is that some of the resources you need to improve are right at your fingertips and law firms are also offering this professional development to their employees. Pinsent Masons, for example, offers all types of training for employees at all levels, as well as our freelance Vario lawyers, covering specific practice areas, workplace ethics and softer skills. Aspirational lawyers need to ensure they’re taking responsibility and make sure that when they go into their next job interview, they can prove they’ve considered what they have to offer when it comes to soft skills through qualifications and work experience.
While the techier jobs in law are increasingly being taken up by robots, that doesn’t mean firms don’t value lawyers with knowledge of how tech works. It’s quite the opposite; a lawyer who understands these new and advanced technological systems is a lawyer who can make intelligent suggestions about what can be implemented next.
It remains to be seen whether lawyers will need to start moonlighting as computer coders any time in the near future, but it’s worth being aware that all of this advanced technology (such as AI and machine learning) is only as good as the person making use of it.
This means two things: firstly, firms should ensure they’re providing the proper training alongside their tech development projects (effectively bridging the gap between the ‘human element’ and the ‘tech element’). Secondly, there’s an opportunity here for lawyers in the industry to set themselves apart by brushing up on their own tech know-how – learning what AI is and how it can be used in a legal context. While it may not be a sensible idea to jump straight into a professional computer programming course, it may eventually be a worthwhile feather to add to your cap as a modern legal professional.
In conclusion, legal careers really are evolving at a rapid pace, and there are now more options than ever available to both lawyers starting out in the field, and those already in the sector looking for change. Technology is rocketing onwards, flexible working is becoming more and more common, and firms’ values are changing in line with all of these developments. While it can be intimidating to see the sector you thought you knew evolve before your eyes, it opens up so many opportunities to learn new skills, as well as new ways of setting yourself apart from the competition.
Matthew Kay is the managing director at Vario for Pinsent Masons.