Skills for the millennial lawyer
Denise Nurse is a NewLaw pioneer and has been spearheading operational, structural and cultural change within the legal services industry since starting Halebury in 2007. She will be taking part in a panel discussion on “Building the Legal Team of the Future” at the Corporate Legal Innovators conference on the 6th October 2016.
Predictions for the future of law and for lawyers have been stark. Robots, non-lawyers and NewLaw models, all of which have increased competition, are expected to severely diminish and even eradicate the need for traditional lawyers. The Law Society’s report into Legal Services in 2020 specifically forecasts machines with the potential to render judgment, accountants encroaching on lower value legal services and the pressure to do ‘more for less’ continuing. Richard Susskind’s latest book, The Future of the Professions, forecasts the demise of the professions as technology improves, including the rise of artificial intelligence and telepresence.
As the CEO of a NewLaw Firm which is 9 years old and ranked in Legal 500, everyday we see the seismic changes affecting business and our profession. I believe that there is a bright future for lawyers and the legal profession, but the skill set of the new Super Lawyers who can compete with this increased competition needs to change. The Millennial Generation are now in leadership positions and Gen Z are right behind them, so what must the Modern Lawyer be skilled in to survive?
The Millennial Lawyer must not just be familiar with the basics, they need to have an ability to understand how technology can be used to help do their jobs better. One of the first major changes when I went in-house 15 years ago was how much the lawyer had to do for themselves without the help of a secretary: type, format and mark up your own letters and actually learn Excel. It is still surprising how few lawyers can operate an Excel spreadsheet. – it is hardly radical, but essential. Today, the Millennial Lawyer should be able to work with software to enhance their skills across the board from contract management to financial management software, customer relationship management packages, to e-disclosure and know how best to use artificial intelligence. The big law firms are starting to move on this and many of the newer entrants too. In-house teams need to be able to understand their needs and find ways to integrate their bespoke systems with the wider business and even to leverage systems not designed for lawyers for their purposes. A lawyer who cannot use technology effectively and efficiently will become extinct.
- Project Management
Pick any legal transaction or area of law and it will be fast moving and complex and involve a lot of process as well as law. An overlooked and underplayed skill of the best lawyers is their ability to manage the complexity and guide clients through. Often, as much as providing the legal analysis and the experience of how to approach a case, transaction or legal problem, it is the management of the solution that the client is after, and in particular the management of how that transaction or legal problem should be integrated within the client’s operation. This is not an easy skill to learn, but it is essential for all lawyers, especially the Millennial Lawyer.
- The Specialist Generalist
The ability to step out of your silo and integrate with other areas of the business is an essential of any good lawyer. Whatever your area of specialism, when advising a client, an empathy for their position and understanding of the wider context is required to ensure you can advise on the best way forward and provide genuine value. I believe that the integration with the wider business is a key reason for the rise of the in-house legal team. Now accounting for a quarter of the jobs in the legal profession in England and Wales and with in-house teams for private businesses growing*, understanding more than your specialist area is essential. GCs quoted it as one of the key skills they are looking for in new lawyers in the Law Society’s Benchmarking Study into in-house, GC350**. The implementation of Brexit is likely to mean many more lawyers or legally trained people are required back into the public sector too and an ability to think widely, act commercially and see the bigger picture will be essential to complete the Brexit mission effectively and in the most efficient way.
- Social Media
This may seem an odd addition and even tokenistic. But lawyers still get most of their work based on referrals and the ability to ‘sell’ your services and make others aware of what you do is key. Does it make you a better lawyer if you can tweet, post to LinkedIn and blog with the best of them? No. Does it provide you with a cost effective and personal way to communicate your own experience with clients and potential clients, connect with colleagues globally and stay on top of industry changes with greater ease? Yes it does.
- Emotional Intelligence and Communication
Standing out above the machines will mean that more than ever before, lawyers will be in leadership positions. More than two thirds of GCs now sit on their organisation’s board, with more than half reporting to the CEO**. As leaders, lawyers need to show leadership skills and EI is a prized skill for all those in leadership positions. The seminal book by Dr Daniel Goleman on Emotional Intelligence has paved the way for this understanding of the impact of EI or EQ on successful leadership. Internal relationship building, an ability to develop relationships quickly and an ability to challenge constructively in a way that the business will accept, is a key skill GCs are looking for in future lawyers according to the GC350 Study.
- Business Acumen
This encompasses an understanding of risk, financial literacy, and the ability to make effective business, not just legal decisions. Understanding the operation and aims of the business you are advising is vital.
Halebury is predominantly a commercial law practice and most of our clients are technology, media and telecoms companies, but these six qualities are relevant to all lawyers in whichever discipline or area in which you practice, from public law, to high street law to corporate law. If you are going to compete in the 21st Century and come out on top, I suggest you start working on these skills now, for you and for your team, and ascribe a higher value to these skills when hiring your successors.
The core skills of being analytical, logical, good with written and oral skills and understanding the law are taken for granted: what makes you stand out from the rest are these skills that all lawyers need to focus on.
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Written by Denise Nurse, CEO and Co-Founder of Halebury.