March 30, 2020

Is my law firm teaching me the skills I need to become successful in the next decade?

Every lawyer, from the solo practitioner to lawyers in large international firms, should ask themselves this question. For young lawyers and law students, this is even more important. Their career will be fundamentally different from those of the current partners in their law firms. The “gates to these partnerships” are closing and traditional business models, based on the billable hour, will be disrupted.

This article stresses the importance of legal innovation for individual lawyers. It highlights six major trends that demonstrate why you will need different skills to become successful in the next decade.

Lawyers as well as law firms should be aware of what is changing  in the legal industry and how they can prepare themselves.

6 reasons why you need different skills in the next decade

1️⃣ The world has changed and lawyers should change with it

The world has fundamentally changed and lawyers should change with it and adapt. We are currently in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution that will lead to exponential changes to the way we live, work and relate to one another. “The pace of change has never been this fast and yet it will never be this slow again” (Justin Trudeau). Innovation, technology and digital transformation will impact and (further) disrupt every sector. The disruption has not fully reached the legal sector. However, disruption is coming, the only question is when. Lawyers need to be aware of these evolutions and be proactive to remain future proof.

2️⃣ New world, new skills

In a new world, lawyers need new skills. The World Economic Forum issued a list of the 10 skills you need to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution. In 5 years (between 2015 and 2020), 35 % of the skills that were considered important, have changed. Skills like creativity, emotional intelligence, initiative and ideation are and will become increasingly important. Yet, traditional legal work does not prepare us to excel in these skills.

3️⃣ Innovation is what differentiates lawyers from their peers

Innovative lawyers gain a competitive advantage over their peers. Legal knowledge and the ability to interpret the law is not a unique selling point anymore. It is a prerequisite to start as a lawyer. A large number of lawyers are able to interpret and apply the law. The number of lawyers that can actually come up with creative solutions that go beyond the law and are embedded in a changing world is much, much smaller.

4️⃣ Alternative legal service providers (ALSP’s) are the real competitors

Lawyers’ real competitors are not other law firms but Alternative Legal Service Provider (ALSP’s). ALSP’s can loosely be categorized as any non-lawyer providing legal services. Clients require effective solutions for a broad portfolio of legal work. To them, it is irrelevant whether lawyers or non-lawyers are performing this work.

ASLP’s are a multibillion dollar industry and they are growing at an incredible pace. Moreover, these innovators are already delivering law better, faster and cheaper than a traditional law firm. Lawyers that want to be successful should be willing to learn from these ASLP’s.

5️⃣ The Big Four are leading by example

The Big Four are successfully continuing their expansion into the legal services industry. They enjoy a competitive advantage since innovation, collaboration and multidisciplinary teamwork are part of their DNA. Lawyers and legal consultants that are part of the Big Four network are encouraged, trained and equipped to become 21st century-proof professionals. This leads to exponential professional growth, both on the level of the individuals as on the level of the Big Four themselves.

Even today, the “tax and legal work” revenue of any individual Big Four dwarves that of Kirkland & Ellis (the top-grossing law firm worldwide). This demonstrates that the Big Four have the relationships, the scale and the technology to become the world’s largest and best legal service providers.

6️⃣ Clients’ expectations have changed

Clients expect more. The proliferation of new laws lead to increasingly complex legal advice. Moreover, clients are no longer satisfied with a mere interpretation of the law. They want actionable content that is understandable and business oriented.

Clients expect more for less. Decreasing budgets for legal departments put pressure on legal counsels and lawyers alike. Lawyers have to deliver their increasingly complex services cheaper, better and faster.

Clients expect different services. They are looking for preventive lawyering (opposed to traditional reactive lawyering where the problem has to arise first).

Clients expect new services. Our clients operate in the same changed world as we do. They require their lawyers to guide them and expect new (innovative) types of advice. They are looking at us to help manage the change, to leverage technology differently, to partner together collaboratively.

Technology enabled innovation will be key to meet the client’s new expectations. Law firms that successfully embed these in their practice will be able to grow exponentially.

Sources and further reading