While legal anthropologists are yet to discover a definitive “first lawyer”, the oldest known legal documents have been carbon dated to as long as 1.5 million years ago. It is safe to say that the legal profession has had a long time to cement its reputation, and with that, the generally accepted view of what lawyers do.
Businesses across almost every sector are undergoing a significant change, and we can all see examples of new technologies and innovations disrupting “the way we do things”. The legal profession is not immune to this.
Indeed, stories appear with more and more frequency to highlight the adoption of new, artificial intelligence-powered legal services. Fully-fledged “robot lawyers” are even coming to the market in some places.
Hence the rise of the legal technologist: a role that bridges technology and legal services. This is just one of many new jobs that will soon owe their existence to the fact that law firms are changing.
This is not naval-gazing, either: with nearly 1,200 private firms in Scotland employing more than 24,000 people with an annual economic contribution in excess of £1.5 billion, change in our industry has a knock-on effect on businesses, students and professionals alike.
So in an industry that frequently champions its talent and puts great stock on the value of its people, what does a “talent-first” approach actually mean?
Putting talent first has to be about becoming future-fit. Even the definition of a legal career is beginning to change: firms are asking the question, what do future (human) lawyers look like? And, how can we invest in our talent to match that vision?
For example, we asked our employees to pick out the qualities that point to good performance from a lawyer. Among the top responses were “leadership”, “social media” and “influencing skills”. The role of emotional intelligence is only increasing as our staff realise the importance of human insight, and human trust.
The World Economic Forum has previously suggested that future-fit workers will need to combine social skills such as these with processing and cognitive skills like critical thinking, mathematics and creativity.
Lawyers are likely to need a similar balance: one that blends a modern understanding of changing business environments with the age-old need to manage clients and demonstrate expertise. This will test the sector’s ability to cast off old stereotypes.
These skills are also a reminder that lawyers need to view their practice as a business. Understanding business development and making use of channels like LinkedIn as well as honing networking skills are all human qualities that will help lawyers see success in future.
On the operational side, most legal practices will need to invest in IT specialists to create the digital ecosystem clients will come to expect – particularly one that can manage and integrate with legal software, document management systems and innovations like AI-driven functions. The fee-earner will have to understand all of this, embrace it and sell it. Push boundaries still further and a new horizon of technical skills requirements starts to appear. Legal coding, for example, so that lawyers can create technological solutions in-house; design thinking may be another – so that firms can better adapt processes and systems.
These are the preoccupations of a future-fit law firm. We do not need an army of coders today; but we do need to ensure our team is embracing change and prepared to upskill.
After millennia of relative predictability, the legal industry is starting to shift. If we can focus on developing those skills that are, at least for now, uniquely human, then a change should be no bad thing.
- Maggie Moodie is chairman, partner and public sector lead at Scottish law firm Morton Fraser.