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New world, new skills: Why upskilling in law matters

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Future lawyers must be able to adapt to the changing landscape of the legal profession. In this context, upskilling is paramount to “future-proofing” law firms—ensuring they support the development of holistic lawyers, driven by knowledge and a passion to innovate the profession.

As the world becomes progressively digitalized and globalized, the need for highly innovative, multidisciplinary, and internationally oriented lawyers is on the rise. Professor Richard Susskind, author of The End of Lawyers?, has warned that we have only “five years to reinvent the legal profession.” However, far from a threat, this is an opportunity to drive the industry forward and add value to law firms through upskilling.

 

What is upskilling?

Upskilling is a life-long process of continuous professional growth. Companies who invest in upskilling help their employees to learn new skills and shrink their knowledge gaps.

The lawyers of tomorrow must be able to adapt to the changing landscape of the legal profession. This requires being equipped with non-legal skills such as, but not limited to, risk management, creative thinking, and knowledge of business-related areas. In this way, upskilling also represents a cultural shift in the workplace as the workforce embraces more modern and future-forward ways of doing things.

 

The digital transformation

The rapidly expanding digital economy has created new possibilities for law firms, and although technology can’t provide a substitute for the critical and reflective dimension of legal practice, lawyers need to be well versed in technological processes in order to drive innovation and change in their organizations.

Training those non-legal skills has become a corporate priority largely due to the recent advances in technology. For instance, law firms are already using artificial intelligence to carry out due diligence, bill hours, and conduct research.

Lawyers need to be acquainted with business partnering. They must be able to collaborate with business colleagues on a daily basis to heighten their value to business clients

 

Imbalance in supply and demand

Additionally, upskilling is essential to improve staff retention and provide a sustainable and appealing culture for the next generation of legal professionals. According to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey, nearly 60 percent of U.S. employers have job vacancies that remain unfilled for 12 weeks or longer. On average, such extended job vacancies cost companies over $800,000 annually.

Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder and co-author of The Talent Equation, said, “The gap between the number of jobs posted each month and the number of people hired is growing larger as employers struggle to find candidates to fill positions at all levels within their organizations.” Upskilling is an effective way to prepare the workforce with the necessary skill sets to fill these positions.

 

Fresh perspectives

People are the DNA of successful companies, which means employee development is critical to the future of any organization. It’s therefore increasingly imperative to create T-shaped lawyers qualified in non-traditional skills, in order to keep up with the highly demanding legal sector.

Crucially, lawyers need to be acquainted with business partnering. They must be able to collaborate with business colleagues on a daily basis to heighten their value to business clients. Likewise, lawyers need to understand risk-management strategy, and be proactive in identifying potential risks to a business.

Equally important are leadership skills. The ability to motivate colleagues, command the trust of clients, and lead change in a company is essential in a 21st-century lawyer.

 

Forward-thinking

It’s difficult to predict exactly what lawyers of the future may look like, and therefore challenging to pinpoint which specific competencies are necessary.

However, we do know the skill sets they’re likely to require, and several leading companies, including Amazon, have already invested in identifying the specific abilities needed for jobs yet to be created. This involves mapping, identification of core competencies, and a commitment to upskilling—research many law firms would benefit from.

 

An essential investment

Law is no longer limited to lawyers and lawyers are no longer limited to law. Upskilling is therefore paramount to “future-proofing” law firms—ensuring they support the development of holistic lawyers, driven by knowledge and a passion to innovate the profession. Contrary to popular opinion, the biggest threat to law firms is not technology, but their failure to upskill.  Firms too slow to adapt to the universal perspective of legal practice will suffer a competitive disadvantage.

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