The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting market disruption are forcing a recalibration in the legal industry. Legal providers and employers are recognising that, in order to effectively future proof their firms, adjustments are required: they’ll need to reimagine paths for their lawyers, from updating recruiting practices and professional development, to creating more diverse career models.
Legal practice isn’t going to return to “normal” in the near term. Legal firms, providers and in-house legal departments are evolving and adapting to this new landscape, where the risks are increasing (employment policies, vendor obligations, privacy), but so is pressure to drive efficiency. Essentially, the mandate is do more, but do it differently.
In the current environment, legal teams must move fast, be nimble and employ the right skill sets. This will require a different way of thinking about ‘legal’ roles and considering the creation of diverse career paths. M.E. Reidy, UK General Manager at Axiom, explains the changes we can expect to see in the legal sector.
Diverse skill sets turbo-charging the legal industry
Historically, the legal profession has focused on, and competed over, how to identify, attract and retain talent. Yet for decades the way the industry has approached recruiting and professional development activities has stifled diversity, inclusion, and innovation.
Now is the time for the industry to reimagine and restructure. This is beyond changing recruiting efforts to target a more diverse pool of talent from a wider net of law programmes – though an important step. We’re talking about reimagining the idea of what working in the legal sector means.
Expertise has long been the barometer for what makes a good lawyer good. But now the bar is higher. Lawyers need to be lawyers+. They need to have the business acumen to understand how to not only drive revenue, but also how to balance risk. It’s about understanding the business’ strategy and complementing it with an appropriate legal strategy; it’s creating a commercial partnership while keeping one eye on the potential legal pitfalls.
Expertise has long been the barometer for what makes a good lawyer good. But now the bar is higher.
Alongside this pivot to commercial partnership, forward-thinking legal teams will augment their practices with non-lawyers, bringing a different skill set and value to the business. In fact, these allied legal professionals, such as project managers, data analysts, business analysts and financial managers, will play a critical role and significantly influence the effectiveness of legal teams in the future. Incorporating this kind of talent will be an investment. It will require the segmentation and unbundling of legal work to identify what work will benefit from a different type of expertise and/or process management. It will require having open, and potentially painful conversations about inherent inefficiencies and mean ceding control on certain project aspects.
But the result will be worth it. Broadening the make-up of the legal team will enable greater adaptability, creativity and productivity. It will allow employers to gain insights from multiple perspectives, deliver beyond siloed expertise and will naturally bring a more diverse group to the table, providing better legal and business outcomes. An additional consideration in the diversification of roles is understanding how to deploy fee-earners into new roles to build their skill sets, or potentially hiring for alternative skills, rather than sector experience.
Building new routes towards a career in law
The legal sector needs to reconsider how to attract the right kind of workforce, to best position itself for this new paradigm. Part of this is offering access to alternative career paths vs. the traditional legal model, such as training and apprenticeships in place of law school, or an increase in in-house apprenticeships, instead of law firm training contracts.
‘Partner or bust’ is an outdated rallying cry that has caused younger generations of lawyers to step away from the industry or seek a different path within it. This break with tradition will only accelerate post-pandemic, as lawyers experience not only a virtual workplace, but a growing awareness that there may be greater efficiency to be had in how work is managed and allocated. This distance has allowed for reflection on what’s next, professionally, and personally. An interest to work in law remains, but now is paired with a curiosity to explore other careers within the sector – the power of data, the clear benefit of strong project management will be ‘side effects’ of the pandemic and are career paths in their own right. Repurposing a legal skill set to bring a new value to the legal team will see growing demand. What will separate the forward-thinking teams is the ability to maintain and effectively realign talent into non-traditional, yet pivotal commercial roles.
As new careers within law take root, the importance of pedigree and provenance will give way to a focus on collaboration, agility, experience, results and competency. The legal sector’s efforts towards embracing new models to improve the effectiveness of its teams and promote and support lawyer empowerment, ﬂexibility and choice, as a result, will need to accelerate.
Recalibrating diversity to shape the future of law
Legal organisations must look at how their business is structured, how legal work is done and how their talent is utilised. By offering career models that are rooted in self-determination, and flexibility, and a culture that champions diversity and inclusion, the legal industry can improve productivity, deliver more well-rounded client service, and future proof their organisations.