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Table of contents

1.   The Present…

2.   …the Future

    a.   Tech: the philosopher’s stone?
    b.   Interpersonal skills and Why they matter
    c.   Skills Gap and How to manage it

3.   …and the Proofing

4.   The #FUTUREPROOFLAWYERS Series

5.   Conclusion

 

In the late 1990s, when the “dotcom” excitement reached its peak, the speed and revolutionising innovation led people to often say that “one internet year” was like seven ordinary years. A similar pattern seems to now take control of the professions. Four interrelated tendencies mark the end of the traditional professional era: the shift from bespoke service; circumventing the “traditional gatekeepers”; a movement towards proactive rather than reactive approach to professional work; and the more-for-less challenge[1].

The legal profession is no stranger to this trend. Technology, new working models, coupled with both internal and external factors, push the legal industry into a new era. In fact, Richard Susskind predicted in “Tomorrow’s Lawyers” that the legal world would change “more radically over the next two decades” than “over the last two centuries[2]. Traditional professions, legal ones included, have a reactive nature, in the sense that the recipient of the service usually initiates the contact and the professional replies. Paradoxically, it is for the recipient, an inexpert in the field, to recognise when help is needed for a particular matter. To solve this problem, professional legal work is transforming into a highly reactive, diversified sort. For the practitioners to thrive under these circumstances, they must be ready to acquire new skills & competencies and willing to try and undertake new roles. In particular, they will have to learn and communicate more effectively, master data sciences necessary to properly execute their tasks, reevaluate their working relationships with computers, and diversify their interpersonal skills. More generally, there is one capability futureproof lawyers need to master, and that is flexibility. These are the underlying concepts that stand at the core of our #FUTUREPROOFLAWYERS: skills, roles, jobs Series.

The latest technological advancements have led to speculations on the impact technology will have on the legal industry. The exponential growth in information technology demonstrates that technological changes will transform the way our profession operates and how professionals make legal expertise accessible to society. Paradoxically, it took the advent of technology for us to be reminded of how critical interpersonal skills are in the workplace. The ability to collaborate across practice areas, cultures and disciplines, the art of compromising and accepting other people’s opinions (while putting oneself under the microscope) and striving to better communicate ideas, are all skills insufficiently addressed in law school (and even in practice, for that matter) but utterly valuable in the interest of both lawyers and clients. The legal industry is already presenting a widening skills gap, and there are no signs this will be alleviated anytime soon

Our #FUTUREPROOFLAWYERS: skills, roles, jobs Series will cater to all lawyers and law students out there by presenting the prospecting trends influencing legal roles & jobs, the skills required in the future work environment, and courses that will place you at the cutting edge of legal innovation. Our series is split into two categories: Roles & Jobs and Skills, and they will be delivered to you alternatively between now and June.

 

1.   The Present…

If I were to assess the probability, I would say there is at least a 50% chance that you had coffee this morning before reading this article. But here is something to think about: the craft of traditional coffee-making evolved from the bespoke technique of barista artisans into an automated process that places an entire coffee shop on your kitchen counter and positions the flavoured result at your fingertips. What caused such transformation? The answer lies in the process of coffee-making being extremely prone to automation. All variables necessary for a richly textured cup of coffee (such as temperature and flow of water, roasting and grinding of beans) can be determined with precision well in advance and then pre-programmed into a machine that can then deliver the necessary result at the push of a button. Automatisation of processes like this one has created dissatisfied artisans and irremediably changed professions.

The legal profession has started to be caught up in this process. In The Future for Legal Talent Peerpoint by Allen&Overy 2018 Report, 84% of the interviewees agreed that lawyers nowadays would need different skill sets than they needed five years before. Still, only 30% found their training to have properly suited them for the transition. Fortunately, the need for continuous upskilling is gaining full acceptance, with 25% junior lawyers anticipating upgrading their skills or acquiring some new ones.

Across the market, on the demand side, 26% of in-house lawyers regard compliance as the most significant challenge their department has to face. Pressures for increased efficiency (more-for-less challenge), technology prowess, and the increasing business speed and complexity are equally important matters for in-house lawyers to consider. All these shifts have, undoubtedly, started to impact the requirements & expectations external lawyers are bound to meet. Addressing the elephant in the room, 77% of the respondents considered that technology has not yet replaced the work of in-house lawyers, but 52% contemplated that the much-anticipated tech-over-human shift will gain traction in five years, Future Trends for Legal Services 2016 Deloitte Report reveals.  Additionally, one in three legal services purchasers surveyed clarified that they expect their legal services providers to exhibit industry familiarity, commercial insight and non-legal expertise and, overall, integrated, 360-degree, multidisciplinary advice exceeding the legal boundaries.

What is the impact of this on external lawyers? First and foremost, it pushes them to upskill their tech capabilities to catch up and adequately respond to clients’ demands in the future. Moreover, in order to avoid their work be automatised by machines with know-how and computation power greater than all law firms combined, lawyers should start investing in abilities no AI machine can replicate, such as interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and business capabilities.  

Lawyers have long begun switching the optics and adopting a client-centric philosophy while, at the same time, retailoring their offer. Indeed, law firms of all sizes and shapes, CEE ones included, have started pivoting into the direction indicated by the market trends and gone ahead recognising the importance of investing in their lawyers’ upskilling. From sending lawyers to conferences, training, and workshops to actually organising such events internally, some law firms appear to encourage a growth mindset and client-centric approach among their members and employees. But with 52% of in-house counsels considering purchasing legal service from non-traditional law firms, it is only fair to wonder how fast will law firms adapt to this trend. For what is worth, law companies and other legal stakeholders in the CEE have raised the game and introduced systemic innovation. However, at the CEE level, at least, it is law schools that are yet trailing behind, still faithful to outdated and disconnected curricula, producing graduates prepared mainly in legal craft with insufficient expertise in Business & Operations and Personal Effectiveness skills.

 

2.   …the Future

Forecasting future events is a sensitive task as predicting upcoming situations could be tainted by forecaster’s bias. Past experiences influence the human brain’s capacity of imagining novelties: that is why mid-20th century humans imagined flying cars (but not necessarily autonomous vehicles) or why they considered that, by 2020, apes would work as factory laborers and as chauffeurs (prediction influenced by the Human Genome Project) and that by the same 2020, telepathy and teleportation will become a common occurrence. Predictions say more about the period during which they were made than about the future itself in the sense that they are linked to the trends and value systems contemporary with the person voicing the predictions.

That is why, when contemplating future trends, most visionaries predict the use of AI, blockchain, and RPA on a large scale in the legal industry. While unknown if relevant in the distant future, this prediction seems pretty accurate for the decade to come.

a.     Tech: the philosopher’s stone?[3]

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The latest technological advancements have led to speculations on the extent to which legal tech will disrupt the industry. From alleviating and automating mundane tasks to replacing lawyers altogether, technology has been both hailed as a philosopher’s stone capable of turning the existing legal lead into cutting-edge gold-like solutions as well as demonised as mass production commodity set to deprive legal profession of its artistic, human-centered touch. Clickbait headlines gloomily announce the demise of legal jobs and marginalisation of lawyers. AI, blockchain, RPA, and other software programs and solutions are often feared to bring the lawyers’ trademark craftsmanship to an end. While true that many traditional legally-focused or adjacent jobs are doomed to become redundant and disappear, numerous others will be created in areas such as data analytics, legal design, legal operations, and other tech-driven areas. These new jobs will benefit legal consumers and providers alike by injecting new energy, creativity, diversity, and globalism into an industry in desperate need of systemic reform.

Technology is a catalyst of change expected to set the ground for new delivery models which are customer-centric, lean, agile, leverage data, invest in (re)training the workforce on a regular basis, combine technology and human resources to optimise performance and emphasise customer satisfaction rather than hours billed. The pervasive presence of technology and the proliferation of legal tech jobs will, counterintuitively, place a heightened stake on the so-called “interpersonal skills.”

b.   Interpersonal skills and Why they matter

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Regardless of proportions, it is fair to acknowledge that the legal industry (the delivery segment especially) has gone through an accelerated transition from a tradition-bound, labor-intensive, homogenous, highly-regulated guild into a more open and transparent business. Slowly, under external factors, the split between legal practice and the delivery of legal services as two complementary and intertwined sides of the same coin will deepen. But why you, my fellow lawyer reader, shall be concerned about or even interested in this division? Simple: practice is shrinking and delivery of legal services is expanding primarily due to technology and business expertise transmuting the boundaries of practice and introducing innovative delivery models. These models blur the lines between law, technology, business, and personal skills and help the industry actors raise the game and tackle issues previously avoided, from risk prediction & mitigation, cost reduction, efficiency-enhancing, resourcing, and personal interdependence.

There are three types of intelligence at play in society nowadays the legal industry should account for: intellectual (IQ), emotional (EQ) and artificial (AI) intelligence. Saying that the separation between humans and computer programs is on the emotional intelligence territory is a truism…still. But, for some reason, educating and training lawyers in the role of interpersonal skills (emotional intelligence included) has somewhat traditionally flown under the standard curricula radar. Paradoxically, it took the advent of technology for us to be reminded of how relevant interpersonal skills are in the workplace. The ability to collaborate across practice areas, cultures and disciplines, the art of compromising and accepting other people’s opinions (while putting oneself under the microscope), and striving to better communicate ideas, are all skills insufficiently addressed in law school (and even in practice, for that matter) but utterly valuable in the interest of both lawyers and clients.

It goes without saying that the time has come for lawyers to raise their game and invest more in their abilities. Customer-centric, tech-enabled, well-capitalised new models are changing the face of the legal services as we know it. True, upskilling involves learning and perfecting new or existing skills, but it also necessitates a cultural shift and growth mindset that should be cultivated at both personal and organisational levels. Individuals and organisations must slowly adapt their plans, goals, and KPIs to tackle this transformation adequately, but above all, they must abandon a zero-sum approach to advancement and innovation.

c.    Skills Gap and How to manage it

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Undoubtedly, over the past decade or so, the legal profession in the CEE has evolved to respond to changes in the labor market, client demands, technological advancements, and broader policy shifts. However, certain matters remain unattended.

Generally speaking, economists have turned their attention to the broadening skills gap for some time now. A 2016 joint report by the World Economic Forum and The Boston Consulting Group concluded that “managing skills in the digital age requires organisations to harness technology that enables them to leverage a data-driven approach to lifelong learning and smart upskilling“. Additionally, “over half (54%) of the organisations surveyed said that the digital talent gap is hampering their digital transformation programs and that their organisation has lost competitive advantage because of a shortage of digital talent”, a 2017 report by Capgemini and LinkedIn revealed.

At its core, what generated this imperative to upskill and upgrade were the transformative powers of digitalisation and technology that enabled cross-border businesses, speedy, online exchange of data, and interoperability. And while specific industries were quick to adapt, the legal profession is still lagging in digital readiness. A recent Gartner survey reports that only 19% of respondents are well-equipped to help their companies ride the digital transformation tide. Digital readiness is even more overlooked in law firms.

54% of the interviewed companies acknowledged that the existing digital talent gap is inconveniencing the digital transformation process within. Surprisingly, the talent gap in soft digital skills is more acute than in hard digital skills. The two most sought after soft digital skills are customer centricity and a learning-for-life attitude while the two most requested hard digital skills are cybersecurity and cloud computing. Against this background, the anxiety among today’s employees is rising: the employees are worried that their skill sets are either redundant or on the verge of becoming so in the next 1-2 years.

Nowadays, properly serving digital clients requires that legal service providers be proactive, collaborative, agile, digitally experienced, and overall, that they combine law, technology, and business prowess.

While the facts clearly indicate the need for a firm shift in preparing future and current lawyers, the reactions are mixed. Fortunately, however, more and more legal institutions are acknowledging this skill gap and investing in bridging it.

The use of data and technology is on a growing trend in the legal sector and there seems to be no reason for this trend to fade…to the contrary. For example, some law firms are making use of large volumes of contract information and data in their possession to create value for their business using advanced analytics. There is a high probability that highly-skilled roles involving repetitive processes be automated by smart and self-learning algorithms. In the short term, there will be a need to support and manage this transition and train the algorithms. In the longer term, it could cause some expert roles to be displaced and discontinued, and a fair number of lawyers and law-related employees may need to redeploy/reskill themselves for alternative jobs.

Legal industry’s skill gap has three components:

  • new and early career attorneys are not fully ready for the demands of everyday practice and, given the pressure put on the teams, some of them no longer receive on-the-job training and mentorship;
  • legal knowledge is no longer sufficient for the Digital Era that now requires lawyers to master technological competencies, business prowess, collaboration, and EQ capabilities;
  • increasingly fast job market shifts generated by technological advances, globalisation, market pressures, to name a few, will trigger the disappearance of some jobs and appearance of new ones for which, though, lawyers might be insufficiently prepared.

One of the certainties when contemplating the future of legal professions is that it will be different from the current status quo. Therefore, we should stop preparing the younger generations for job requirements that were only relevant decades ago. The legal industry is already presenting a widening skills gap, and there are no signs this will be alleviated anytime soon. The answer to this dilemma resides in the willingness of the industry’s stakeholders to adopt a critical approach to training, skilling and, overall performance assessment and KPIs setting, preferably using a common frame of reference. Skill-centered models could be such a common tool. By comparing the skill set necessary to any given role with the preexisting abilities of an interested person, one can determine the “skills entropy value” (i.e., what skills must be acquired and to what degree), thus allowing an objective, factual setting up of relevant professional goals. The newest version of such skill-centered model is the Delta Model (see our relevant post here), which is an organic build-up on the previous constructs designed by industry visionary stakeholders. The advantage of such a model is that it can be used by organisations, law schools, and individuals alike. To properly utilise it, however, one needs to understand the direction the industry is heading to, the implications, and, most importantly, to have the necessary vision to see the forest for the trees.

To sum up, for the first time in decades, the future of the legal profession looks relatively different from the current state. While the present indicates an emerging need for more integrated, cost-efficient, 360-degree, multidisciplinary legal services, the future announces a tectonic shift in the way lawyers will be expected to provide their services. The transition starts with the skills necessary to meet the clients’ expectations and involves the method of delivery and the technologies & operations necessary for the relevant objectives. All these requirements create a skills gap that must be carefully tackled by organisations while, at the same time, should catch the attention of individuals who want to invest in their personal brand. Over time, there will be a decline in demand for traditional professions and the conventional professional worker. In an era of unprecedented change, the concept of “single job for life” will be considered whimsical.

 

3.   …and the Proofing

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Massive changes in the industry will be triggered by the action of several factors such as automation, changing clients’ demands and expectations, the ever-growing presence of millennials in the workplace (with their new work philosophy and ethics), the 2016 Deloitte Report contends. New roles are anticipated to emerge in fields such as data analytics, risk mitigation, legal technology architecting, and design, to name a few. Over the second decade of the 21st century, the industry is bound to be profoundly morphed. External pressures from outside the industry, clients’ fluctuating requirements, both coupled with ever-evolving employees’ expectations, are anticipated to both influence business strategies and push the legal market towards a tipping point that will, in its part, create the need for a new talent strategy. This critical point will be achieved when unprepared law firms are no longer sustainable. Should past trends continue, this moment is apocalyptically set to occur in 2020. This prediction is, naturally, dependent on the response law firms provide to the challenges affecting the industry and might easily be off-course.

Conventional jobs with law firms exist and will continue to do so for some time, but their quota is shrinking to make room for untraditional roles. A significant part of this change is determined by technology & digitalisation, while changes at the business level and sophisticated clients’ requirements all demand more agile methods of performing legal tasks and transferring legal knowledge.

Certain emerging domains create a job vacuum and an abundance of opportunities for the bold visionaries out there. Let us briefly address them:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) – AI is defined by The Encyclopedia Britannica as “the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings”. At the legal level, this program is, among others, used to aid in document & contract review, document drafting, due diligence exercises. Currently in its relative infancy (in law, that is), this seemingly limitless technology is set to revolutionise not only the legal industry but our civilisation as a whole. Whether hailed as a Holy Grail or feared as humankind’s last creation (see some interesting insights on technological singularity here and here), AI will redefine lawyers’ services in terms of efficiency and cost reduction. Nonetheless, for the time being, AI-based legal software still needs lawyers to train the program, oversee the process and results, and tutor other lawyers on how to use such software most efficiently. Moreover, the need will appear for specially assigned people responsible for ensuring that the company’s AI programs comply with the applicable law and regulations. As for the lawyers working with public entities and regulators, they are bound to have an even broader understanding of the matter to ensure the supervision of all existing AI capabilities while preparing for future developments.
  • Cybersecurity laws, regulations and policies have an essential role in protecting individuals, companies, organisations, and national interests in the online world. The field is defined by many services and products that are performed, commercialised, and transferred through the internet network. New laws are continuously being drafted and amended to ensure protection to all stakeholders and, with plans on expanding internet accessibility (see the SpaceX’s Starlink project), the field is up for some exciting developments. As a lawyer specialised in cybersecurity, you can either work in-house as an advisor to large companies active in this field, as an external legal counsel or with government & public regulators to ensure the applicable legal framework and compliance requirements.
  • Virtual courtrooms represent one new topic in the legal world that, if implemented, could revolutionise the way access to justice and the anecdotical “day in court” will be perceived. Due to its versatility and given that many court procedures (evidentiary hearings, the discovery of documents, final conclusions, etc.) can be completed via virtual means, the ascent of this field would ripple across the industry, from both a practical and legislative standpoint. But the innovation does not end here: with the proliferation of technological enhancements, one can recreate a crime scene using not only virtual reality but also a unique software able to calculate the type of crime weapon, the severity of wound, impact & effects on the victim, etc. and infer the necessary outcome. Moreover, these solutions will significantly determine public and private cost cuttings by enabling and encouraging “telepresence” for the hearings that do not need any or some parties appear in person. Given the legal challenges posed by such a solution, lawyers familiar with its legal and technical aspects will be in high demand.
  • Space law refers to all space-related activities, from space technology, exploration & crimes, weapons testing, legal regime of space debris, ownership of celestial bodies (the Moon, Mars), mining asteroids, to name a few. Space law is at the point where public international law was a few centuries ago and, akin to that, the legal regime governing interactions will likely be set via treaties and state agreements between space-faring countries and entities. As a space law lawyer, you can either be an advisor to government entities or to large companies to ensure the relevant legal framework and the compliance rules. As outlandish as it may seem, SpaceX had an actual job opening for a Chief Exolawyer in 2018.

To sum up, the slowly-changing legal industry has started to require that legal professionals possess diversified and sometimes complementary skills. It should come as no surprise that organisations begin recruiting from different professions (business, computer science, telecommunications, engineering) and expand their training programs to cater to diverse expertise needs. In any event, different new skills are useful for all lawyers, regardless of their level on the corporate ladder. Given that the further you advance in your career, the less time you spend advising on actual law, new skills might actually become a must for the more experienced lawyers.  For new entrants, acquiring new skills is a long-term investment for both themselves and their organisations.

 

4.   The #FUTUREPROOFLAWYERS Series

It is against this background that we have decided to prepare our readers to avoid the probable impact of the tipping point but instead thrive under the new circumstances. Thus, we have devised a roadmap of skills and roles interested lawyers should be on a lookout for if they want to stay ahead of the game.

Our #FUTUREPROOFLAWYERS: skills, roles, jobs Series will cater to all lawyers and law students out there. We will be your guides, your compass, and your confidants on the path to discovering prospecting trends influencing legal roles & jobs, exploring skills required in the future work environment, and enrolling in courses that will place you at the cutting edge of legal innovation.

Our series is split into two categories: Roles & Jobs and Skills, and they will be delivered to you alternatively between now and June.

Our list of Skills was carefully curated to answer the latest trends in the industry, and each of them will be presented in separate posts. Synthetically, some of the Skills we will bring to your attention are the following:

These skills determine or are determined (depending on how you prefer to think the chicken or the egg causality dilemma) by the following Roles & Jobs we also address in our Series (by the way, the chicken or the egg dilemma seems to have been resolved… Regardless, let us get back to our roles):

The list above contains just a few of the core Skills and Roles & Jobs that will be presented exhaustively in separate posts. However, during our interaction and feedback from the industry we might supplement this list as necessary. Essentially, the aim of the #FUTUREPROOFLAWYERS: skills, roles, jobs Series is to provide our readers with the required knowledge for them to thrive and be successful in the slowly but surely changing legal industry.

 

5.   Conclusion

Upskilling is a mandatory process for lawyers and other legal professionals, but it is in no way a one-size-fits-all panacea. It is an endeavour that must be calibrated depending on the evolution of the industry, as determined by both internal and external factors. The goals and expectations of lawyers and other legal professionals dictate the organisations’ internal management while the technological, economic, political, and societal overall circumstances influence external policies. The industry is changing and its stakeholders are bound to follow suit or, even better, to pre-emptively prepare by upskilling and investing in their personal brand. Quintessentially, the upskilling process comes down to answering the following question: what role(s) does one want to play in the industry/profession, and what competencies are necessary to this end? As clients require faster, better and cheaper legal services, basic abilities in fields such as technology, data analytics & security and business can exponentially increase a lawyer’s value on the market.

While CEE law firms and companies have started to take steps in addressing the upskilling imperative, most law schools are still late to join these efforts.

That is why our #FUTUREPROOFLAWYERS: skills, roles, jobs Series will boldly go where no CEE information source has gone before and explore new Skills and new Roles & Jobs for those visionary enough to dare think of the future and act with anticipation rather than react to the circumstances.

 

[1] Richard Susskind, Daniel Susskind, “The Future of Professions”, Oxford University Press, 2015, page 105.

[2] Richard Susskind, “Tomorrow’s Lawyers”, Oxford University Press, 2013, page. xiii.

[3] The most real-life, scientifically accurate correspondent of this medieval legend is in fact, the process of nuclear transmutation.

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