Skills for a successful career in a changing legal market
The current legal market is going through a time of changes, and one of the consequences is the different skill set that will be necessary for a successful legal career. Two of the main reasons for this change in the legal market are the immersion in technology together with the internationalization of the market, as both of these have a large impact in the competencies that lawyers need to develop to be successful.
In order to understand the most relevant changes in the legal market, it is very useful to take a look at the report published by the International Bar Association (President’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Services by María J. Esteban, researcher, & James M. Klotz, IBA Secretary-General and Task Force Chair. The report describes the drivers of change in the legal services industry at a global level, and considers these the most relevant ones:
Changing demographics and values
Skills mismatch and legal education reform
Globalization and shift of economic power
Emergence of new forms of value creation
Legal technology development and innovation
Regulatory innovations and gaps
I would like to focus on the drivers for change concerning globalization and technology. Among some others, the report mentions: (i) increased lawyers’ mobility and, (ii) role of law firms in creating the structures of global markets. The fact that lawyers (as all other professionals) are increasingly practicing their profession in different countries as well as the ever-growing relevance of law firms in global markets, determine that new skills will be needed to succeed in this new legal market.
In order to try to respond to the question of what are the new skills that the changing legal market requires, we need to take into consideration that the competencies, which are highly valued in the legal profession, are not necessarily different to those valued in other professions. In addition, we need to consider that the skills that will make the difference in order to determine a successful career are not only the technical legal knowledge related ones.
I believe the report by the World Economic Forum “The future of Jobs” is very much applicable to the legal sector and should be taken into consideration when we discuss these new competencies. The report describes the situation of different jobs and sectors for the next years, including the legal one, and describes the skills that will be most valued in the market. Number one to three are (i) analytical thinking and innovation, (ii) active learning and learning strategies and creativity and, (iii) originality and initiative. It is very relevant to outline that skills such as memory and quality control are considered as those that are declining in the market.
The skills that are growing in demand in the job market for any economic field are also growing in demand the legal field, in particular in the private legal practice.
Complex problem resolution is what lawyers devote most of their time to. The legal profession is one that requires constant study and critical thinking to evaluate interpret and give advice to clients. Legal practice is a creative profession, both in the practice that is transactional based as in the practice that is conflict resolution based. Creativity is a relevant skill for lawyers as the main tool for lawyers is the language, both written and spoken.
In order to respond to the process of change that the legal industry is going through, some new ways of legal services have appeared, new models of business have arrived to the market and new tools that modify the working style are now used in the market. Some examples are Roos Inteligence, Legal Zoom, Axiom or Rockect Lawyer.
The report the WEF describes how by 2022 everyone will need an extra 101 days of learning. I believe this is particularly relevant in the legal field, where not only the technical knowledge (positive law) keeps growing and changing at a fast paste, but also the skills are now changing. Continuing legal education is mandatory for some jurisdictions, but in addition to these mandatory trainings, lawyers in all countries will need additional training in order to keep up with the needs of the market.
Lawyers will also have to face a reality of jobs shift and growing skills instability, due partly to technology. The WEF reports considers that by 2022, the skills required to perform most jobs will have shifted and the proportion of core skills required to perform a job that will remain the same is only 58%. This means that lawyers will need to constantly train themselves and that some of the most valuable skills are active learning and learning strategies.
The growing rate of automation and the division of labour as share of hours spent (growing hours by machines and decreasing hours by humans) means that lawyers need to be trained in creativity, originality and initiative, as it is in these areas where the added value will be required.
To conclude, I would mention that in order to prepare for a successful legal career, lawyers should be ready to face a changing legal market, where technology and globalization will require to practice law in a different way. Competencies such are innovation and creativity will be highly valued and will give lawyers the opportunity to profit from the benefits of technology to make their job more efficient but at the same time will enable them to give an added value legal service.
About the Author Soledad Atienza is a Law Professor and is Vice Dean for International Relations at IE Law School. She is Director of the Undergraduate programs in Law at IE University. She is senior advisor to the Academic and Professional Development Committee of the IBA. She is co-director of the Pérez-Llorca / IE Chair for Commercial Law.