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January 28, 2019

The Future of Legal Work: Filling in the Gaps of Traditional Legal Training

The future of work is coming fast. A recent Dell Technologies report compiled by business and academic specialists projects that an estimated 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.1  “The pace of change will be so rapid that people will learn 'in the moment,” the report states, “using new technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality. The ability to gain new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself."

The Future of Work is the Future of Legal Work

Because the attorney role is already so specialized and highly-trained, some lawyers may think they are immune to this revolution. They are incorrect: the legal industry is changing at a consistently rapid pace, fueled by changes, growth, and development in technology, multinational business, globalism, and communication, and successful lawyers will not only keep up, but stay ahead of the changing market.

There are several factors that will drastically alter what is demanded of attorneys:

  1. Automation--of anything that can be automated
  2. Millennials becoming the crux of the workplace
  3. Evolving client needs

Traditional attorney methodology and legacy practice focuses are quickly becoming obsolete; some predict that nearly half of all lawyer roles will disappear in the coming decade.2 So how do lawyers navigate these inevitable paradigm shifts and solidify their relevance and necessity in a rapidly shifting market? 

Bridging the Legal Education Gap

Young businesswoman standing on edge of rock mountain

Attorneys Need Business Skills, Not Just Legal Skills

Except for a handful of elite attorneys, knowledge of law alone is insufficient for a successful legal career. The global paradigm shift from labor-intensive industries to digitized, automated, and multinational work environments demands new skill sets from attorneys, which ultimately means upskilling and reskilling--i.e.,  more training. More than ever before, clients are facing heavy pressure to achieve more results with less money, and they are rethinking their needs with regard to their legal services.

In an environment where needs are urgent but purses are tight, lawyers are expected to be cost-effective, scalable, predictable, and accessible around the clock. They are also expected to understand their clients' businesses, competitive landscapes, legal and business risks, and the latest technologies that affect them. 

Law Schools Can't (or Won't) Meet That Need

Law schools have largely failed to adapt to this environment; this has resulted in deep learning gaps within legal education. The majority of law schools have kept their doctrinal approach intact, with curricula staying focused on knowing the law as it is. But these traditional models no longer fit the market and thus may not be adequately preparing future attorneys for success.

The ultimate goal of the majority of law schools and legal education programs is to guide attorneys through the ways in which they can ‘think like a lawyer’ and select a focus in order to become practice-centric. Practice skills, business skills, operational skills, and technology skills--well, those are someone else's problem.  

Law Firms Aren't Filling the Gap

Traditionally, new attorneys gained practical skills under an apprenticeship model, learning from mentors at their law firms. But with partners under more pressure to bring in business and bill, mentorship opportunities are fewer and farther in between. Many (not all!) firms have a sink-or-swim mentality, with the "swimmers" expected to just "figure it out." Those that do have training programs often use traditional tools from legacy vendors that haven't kept up with advancements in educational theory and technology--they simply are not interactive and experiential. In this environment, getting the right experience to drive your career forward can be a matter of luck and timing.

Ask yourself this: from a career development standpoint, are you and your firm's incentives aligned? Can you rely on them for the mentorship and training you need? Do you want your success to be a function of outside forces or your own strength, motivation, and hard work?

An Opportunity for Motivated, Adaptable Attorneys

High-caliber attorneys with specialized business and technical skills remain in short supply, meaning that excellent opportunities exist for those are able to adapt to this market.  How can you be one of them?

  1. Adopt a learning-for-life mindset and stay in tune with the market and its rapid evolution. Building skills and savviness in tech-based realms like data analytics (and anything to do with data, quite frankly), as well as a keen understanding of current business processes and project management is vital.
  2. Embrace the idea of personal branding and the necessity of acting like a business entity with multiple offerings tailored to the market around them, as opposed to a cog in the wheel of big law.
  3. Seek experiential legal education programs that are in tune with market needs and offer learners real-world practice and the chance to evolve into a specialist in an area that is in high demand today, such as data, technology, and cross-border/multinational issues.
  4. Seek out mentors with whom you can have frank conversations about your career and the legal industry itself. But remember that many of these mentors came of age in a much different legal market. Consider expanding your stable of mentors beyond the legal industry--talk to people who have been successful in business development, technology, marketing, and other areas.

Young woman jumping over a gap in the bridge as a symbol of riskAdaptability and a deep understanding of market needs has become the mark of a successful attorney in this era, and that trend will only continue. Attorneys who understand the changing needs of the market and are able to evolve quickly via on-demand educational resources will "win" the future of legal work.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the changing legal marketplace and the role of continuing education in helping legal professionals embrace the future of legal work. Subscribe, and we'll send you updates on our latest content and resources to help you climb your own career tree.


1 https://www.delltechnologies.com/en-us/press/realizing-2030-dell-technologies-research-explores-the-next-era-of-human-machine-partnerships.htm
2 https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/audit/articles/developing-legal-talent.html

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