What are the most important skills for a future lawyer?
"A recent article I submitted to the London young lawyers competition, focusing on what I think to be the most important skills for a future lawyer" written by - Ben Kinnear
13th May 2020
The key word in the question that this will piece will focus on is: future. Only thirty years ago did computers become commonplace in the workspace, and yet it is being predicted that we are two to three decades away from 50% to 90% of human jobs being replaced by automation. In order to hypothesise the skills that lawyers will require for the future, it is necessary to dictate what
the future will be. This piece will demonstrate this reality intertwining how successful lawyers will adapt their skillset to the environment of technology that society is already submerged into. There is, I believe, no arbiter of outlining five skills per se that are the MOST important for a future lawyer to have. The length of this piece does not allow me to discuss a wide variety of fundamental skills, meaning I am limited to argue that the adaptability to the challenges faced by technology and changing client demands represent some of the most important skills for a lawyer to be successful.
Accenture's 2015 study found that the top three managers in the legal profession felt they needed digital and technological know-how, creating thinking and experimentation and data analysis, in order to be successful. If the above automation statistic is considered to be even partially true, lawyers will have to understand how to use and develop this technology to their clients' needs. Herbert Smith Freehills recently developed a software piloting a litigation analytics programme. This requires a different skill set to the traditional litigator.
Continued on from this, clients still require their lawyers direct focus yet perhaps in a different way. This especially is important to solicitors and commercial law. The ‘commercial’ is as fundamental as the ‘law’ is not more so and future lawyers have to be aware of the distinction and interdependence of the words. PwC’s business philosophy BXT captures this well. ‘Business, Experience and Technology’ allows the firms to think unconventionally to inspire commercial solutions but also new ways to work more generally. New business philosophies are likely to become commonplace, such as HSF’s ‘2020’ vision. Creative thinking and by extension, problem solving becomes vital to a future lawyers skillset. Solutions are not handed to a lawyer, perseverance and the normalised phrase ‘thinking outside the box’ is an adequate term for the situation described above.
Communication, writing, listening and reading skills are still vital and certainly will continue to be required by lawyers. Being able to successfully communicate through different mediums (such as voice, presentation, technological programming) as requested by the client will not change. Partner David Morley stated that there is an inherent focus on what is written, noting the thousands of documents looked through by lawyers, but little focus on what is said. Future lawyers have to realise the huge importance of oral skills when with a client.
It is important to discuss how the common meaning of teamwork will change. Teamwork always has been important, yet even more so through technology. Meetings change to an online format, requiring ‘teams’ to focus on the meaning of how to continue to be one. Covid 19 has illustrated this to a great extent. Law firms have been required to use platforms such as Zoom or google hangouts to meet with clients, colleagues or regulators, in order to mitigate the circumstances that the virus has placed the workforce in. Is this a reality that can be expected for the future? Certainly the skills of communicating with clients becomes even more important with not being face-to-face focusing again on the innovation of lawyers more generally. This certainly returns to the three skills outlined at the beginning of the piece focusing especially on digital and technological know how, creative thinking and experimentation.
Summarising these brief findings, I have focused on what I believe to be future skills required for a lawyer, but have consciously omitted others that are of huge importance; resilience, hardworking, enterprising, proactive, confident, analytical and commercially aware. There is and never will be the perfect future lawyer; but, incorporating the skills discussed into one's repertoire serves to push a lawyer to be the best they can be.