Not a day seems to go by without a tech expert or blogger making scary predictions about the imminent demise of the legal services sector and what that might mean for aspiring and junior lawyers. The Doomsday scenario brought on by the technological ‘big bang’ and, which continues to gather pace as I write this piece, is that machines will eventually replace some of the work traditionally handled by trainee solicitors and indeed their more senior colleagues.
This is clearly a far cry from the late 1990s when I started my training contract and when Brit Pop bands Oasis and Blur were battling it out in the music charts. I vividly recall my trainee intake being the first cohort ever to each have their own computers and when a ‘data room’ was an actual room packed with hundreds of hardcopy documents all organised neatly in lever arch folders then placed on shelves spanning from the floor to ceiling. It’s also worth noting that back then, as we rapidly approached a new millennium the fear wasn’t technology resulting in the collapse of law firms as we knew them rather a full-blown Armageddon brought about by the Y2K Bug.
Fast-forward circa 25 years, and though the world survived the dawn of the 21st Century, the legal sector couldn’t look anymore different. Most remarkably, some of the law firms I considered applying to for training contracts are no longer around whilst others have undergone dramatic transformations through rapidly growing overseas networks or by completing full-blown transatlantic mergers. There are also plenty of new kids on the block, including the accountancy practices and virtual law firms who are now hot on the heels of traditional outfits.
But talking to current groups of trainees, one area that hasn’t changed since my days in practice is that, notwithstanding technology being the most dominant influences in their lives, basic skills such as research, attention to detail, time management and business acumen (more on this in a future blog) are still just as important now as when I was in their shoes.
That said, having a good grasp of technology that extends beyond Excel mustn’t be ignored. Today, Gen Z lawyers should be able to work with IT to enhance their skills across the board from contract management to financial management software, customer relationship management packages, to e-disclosure as well as have an appreciation of how best to use artificial intelligence.
The significance of social networks shouldn’t be undermined either. Granted, tweeting and blogging may not necessarily make you a more capable lawyer in the eyes of your partners or clients. However, even the most conservative of law firms now acknowledge the significant role social media platforms, notably LinkedIn, play in helping lawyers to stay connected with colleagues and clients alike.
Networking be that virtual or in person is without doubt a key ingredient in carving out a successful career in law. However, unless you work on boosting emotional intelligence and communication skills networking is likely to feel like you’re swimming against the tide, especially as you desperately try to get noticed and stand out above your contemporaries and indeed the machines!
Before launching your own YouTube channel, scheduling your next Instagram live event or even firing off a connection request, I’d strongly recommend spending time on doing some proper self-reflection and asking yourselves some of the following: How do I ‘really’ come across to others around me? How do I make people feel when I communicate with them? Do I leave positive first and last impressions? Do I listen attentively or unwittingly hijack conversations whilst constantly talking about myself?
Having heightened self-awareness is, I believe, one of the most important attributes for lawyers to help future proof their careers against automation. After all, clients are only human, meaning they’re more likely to foster stronger working relationships with lawyers who also show their human sides too.
If you’d like to find out more about key skills for Gen Z lawyers then don’t forget to sign-up for a free Webinar we’ll be hosting on 22 October 2020 in collaboration with the Barbri. Click here to register.