Practicing law today looks very different than it did a generation ago. For an industry that long had a reputation for resisting change, the skills needed to successfully practice law have changed dramatically in the past 10 years.
In today’s market, simply being a good lawyer is no longer enough. In the world of “new law,” lawyers need to be honing additional skill sets in technology, finance, business, and more. For years now, the industry has been discussing the idea of T-shaped lawyers—lawyers who have both deep legal expertise and expertise in another subject—but the focus on training such lawyers has not yet caught up.
All of that is now starting to change. By focusing on expanding and strengthening their skillsets, lawyers can make sure they remain relevant in the profession and have access to more opportunities for success.
Old Law vs. New Law
Since the legal profession began, the formula for succeeding as a lawyer has been mostly the same. While the technology might have changed over time, the core skills didn’t—essentially, you just need to hone your analytical and communication skills, perfect your ability to research, and focus on crafting the best legal strategy or argument to advance your position. Being a good lawyer was the end goal and enough to ensure success.
Today, however, the business of law incorporates countless skills that fall outside traditional core legal competencies, and many firms and corporations aren’t prepared to meet those new demands. No shortage of additional skills will help make you more marketable and successful in today’s market, but proficiencies in technology, data and analytics, math and statistics, finance and budgeting, and large-scale project management are among the most valuable. Each of these skill sets now comes into play in the practice of law on a near-daily basis.
All these new legal competencies have in common the recognition that legal projects involve far more than legal skills. Too many lawyers, however, are still narrowly focused on the legal aspect of their work and are therefore missing out on a whole host of opportunities. Rising lawyers and law firm graduates who might have previously struggled to be part of the hiring conversation can now make themselves highly marketable by becoming experts in one or more of these areas and filling a pressing need in today’s legal organizations.
Obtaining the Skills Needed for New Law
The industry has started to take note of the shift to new law and is adjusting its training accordingly, both at the law school level and the professional level. With clients and corporations now expecting or even demanding new skills and services, it’s crucial that we train the legal workforce to deliver those skills and services.
Several law schools are starting to integrate some degree of tech skills into the standard law curriculum, particularly on the technology front. Among them are Berkeley Law’s academic certificate in law and technology, Harvard Law School and Michigan Law offering courses geared around technology and the law, NYU Law and University of Chicago Law School offering legal tech clinics, Columbia Law School and Yale Law having official legal tech student associations and organizations, and Stanford Law School’s combined program in law, science, and technology, to name a few.
Leading outside of Traditional Legal Roles
Technology, however, is just one facet of new law. The goal in adjusting legal training isn’t necessarily to prepare students for specific jobs; it’s to hone their mental acuity to understand how their existing skill sets might allow them to use their law degrees and be leaders in ways outside traditional lawyering roles.
A perfect example is Chancellor John Pierre at the Southern University Law Center. He promotes an interdisciplinary approach to legal education by helping students discover the skills they already have and encouraging those nonlegal skills through law school courses, boot camps, and more. The key is exposure and building on existing strengths, rather than trying to force future lawyers to become experts in all possible skills that might be relevant to new law. The more law students understand what skills they need beyond traditional lawyering, the better positioned they will be to make the most of their legal careers.
Training for the skills necessary to succeed in new law doesn’t end in law school. For those who might have graduated before the focus on expanding skill sets or who have found a new niche area that can enhance their careers, there’s plenty of legal education available that focuses on topics beyond strictly legal ones. Professional development has long been a mainstay of legal practice and, indeed, a requirement in the form of CLE. Lawyers today should be focusing on making their professional education meaningful and valuable by viewing it as an actual career development tool, not simply checking off a required number of credits.
The Future of Legal Hiring and Employment
Law schools that dig in their heels and insist on focusing strictly on traditional lawyering models are locking their students out of highly lucrative and transformational opportunities. The same is true for lawyers who fail to adapt, believing that simply being a good lawyer with strong legal and analytical skills will be enough to continue being successful in an increasingly competitive legal market. In contrast, lawyers who can bring additional skills to the table, particularly in some of the key areas outlined above, will be viable candidates for jobs and job markets for which they might not have previously ever been considered.
Overcoming Underlying Biases in the Profession
Honing the skills demanded by new law can also help candidates overcome underlying biases that have long existed in the legal workplace. While diversity and inclusion initiatives have proliferated across the legal industry in an attempt to address long-standing bias against women, people of color, and other marginalized groups, there’s still a long way to go. Coming to the legal table with superior technology, data, finance, business, project management, or other new skills is a way for candidates who might otherwise be overlooked to remain in the conversation and succeed at building rewarding careers.
Remaining Competitive in Today’s Market
Organizations that want to remain competitive in today’s market will need to look at the roles and makeup of their firm or corporate legal department and likely make some significant changes. In the future, that will increasingly mean considering both the value of new, nontraditional skill sets and a broader pool of candidates who may have previously been overlooked.
Adding Value to the Business
Succeeding as an organization is all about how your legal services and lawyers will add value to the business. Simply being good at law is no longer enough. There’s a whole new world of opportunities in technology, data, finance, project management, and more—skills that complement the practice of law and are increasingly becoming integral parts of it.
As more schools offer training in nontraditional areas and more employers see the value in nonlegal skills, those skills soon will be nonnegotiable rather than nice to have. These trends will only accelerate as technology continues to have an exponential impact on the practice of law, as it has in other industries. Now is the time to be focusing on the skills that will make you competitive in the world of new law.