By Carlos de la Pedraja García-Cosío
For several years now, the profile of corporate lawyers has changed radically for multiple and well-identified reasons, among them technology, globalization, the power of clients, new generations of lawyers and business models, the appearance of new competitors (even non-lawyers) and the crisis of the traditional law firm model. There are many reasons why corporate lawyers should not only be experts in their particular field, as legal knowledge is not the sole element of legal delivery—business and technological competencies are equally important. But in addition to this set of technical skills, corporate lawyers need to update and fully develop the so-called soft-skills. With these I refer to competences such as cross-collaboration, creativity, design thinking, lateral thinking, the ability to solve complex problems, emotional intelligence and flexibility, among others.
In my recent travels, just before the hit of pandemic, I talked about hybrid talent and how lawyers should become mermaids or centaurs by developing and combining the skills described above. But what will happen after COVID-19? Is the trend we talked about before the global lockdown going to continue? Will this new reality have an impact on the skills needed to succeed in the business of law?
A few days ago, Mark A. Cohen, a consultant and international legal expert, wrote that this situation "will turbocharge legal industry transformation", and I could not agree more. The new situation is accelerating changes in the business model, where the virtual world prevails over the physical one, where remote meetings replace face-to-face contact, where technology and the discovery of new communication tools with clients, suppliers, agencies and lawyers are the “new normal”. Even though many of us knew that law—like so many industries—was undergoing a tectonic shift, the pandemic has confirmed us that another way of working is possible, another way of advising, another way of collaborating; and that by integrating the best of the virtual and physical worlds we will be able to reinvent ourselves.
But let's not get our hopes up just yet. For the moment, how we work is changing, not the business model. A transformation in business models will undoubtedly be the next step in the evolution of the new legal world.
Who will become the winner in this new reality? The first thing we know is that in the world of corporate law there will still be a great deal of work, but we are also aware that the type of work will be different, as previous crises have shown us. The industry needs flexible lawyers who are capable of dedicating themselves at all times to precise "surgery": M&A lawyers will now be dedicated to restructuring or reviewing contract clauses while applying different legal knowledge. Litigation lawyers will be committed to bankruptcy, labor legislation or arbitration and mediation... In short, the areas in which there will be more work will change and lawyers will have to quickly become experts in new disciplines. This is not new: lawyers have had to face these situations in the past.
Nonetheless the great challenge for corporate law is not found in these shifts in legal competencies, but in upskilling: the ability to learn entirely new competencies that reflect the new reality which is more liquid, more volatile, more uncertain, more complex and above all, more ambiguous and digital. It is the VUCAD environment elevated to the nth degree, where making decisions, getting it right and foreseeing what tomorrow will bring is becoming more challenging as we speak. It is the moment for leadership with a capital L, not for management—which is being applied today to save the business in the short term. It is the moment when technology, data analysis and metrics will become paramount. Leadership will have to be combined with a healthy dose of creativity and imagination, because the lawyers who will survive will be those capable of imagining what the profession will be like in the coming years.
Without a doubt, one of the differentials of this new era will be interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, where collaboration with clients, suppliers, competitors, partners, public bodies and multidisciplinary teams will be the keys to the profession. The client will be the absolute center of the corporate legal universe, and the realities with which we will work will be increasingly complex and multidisciplinary. For this reason, the development of critical thinking and so-called "problem solving" will be most demanded skills, along with decision-making. Getting it right will not be easy in the coming years.
In short, the new legal world requires a new profile, the "liquid lawyer": a flexible professional capable of adapting to different and changing realities and environments, one who can work in person and remotely, a lawyer that is comfortable working with various legal systems, that knows the immense technological possibilities at his disposal, that works with data and metrics and who can make decisions in a world in contant change and does so using large doses of creativity, leading its team on an unprecedented adventure.
About the Author Carlos de la Pedraja is the current General Manager and Vice Dean of IE Law School. With expert knowledge of the legal industry, Carlos has worked for over 20 years in transforming the sector, exploring new ways of offering legal services, and developing new professional skills.
Since 2015, Carlos has held the position of General Manager and Vice Dean. Throughout this time, he has played an important role in overseeing the financial structuring and internal management of IE Law School, as well as designing its ongoing strategy, exploring new markets, and securing international partnerships.
Furthermore, Carlos teaches Talent Management courses for several executive programs, as well as Human Resources courses at IE Business School.
Carlos holds a law degree from the University of Oviedo, and completed a Master in Human Resources and a Master in Legal Consultancy at IE Business School.