In an earlier article, I already indicated three “must have” skills for lawyers: non-legal knowledge, management skills and competencies relevant to relationships. I would like to enlarge upon the combined demand for professional competence, social competence and self-competence on the basis of four recent surveys.
A glimpse of four studies
According to a study, the future of work will be determined by the following trends: environmental sustainability, urbanisation, increasing inequality, political uncertainty, technological change, globalisation and demographic change. On the strength of 120 work-related features (skills, abilities and knowledge), it was established for every profession whether it would still be necessary in the future (ibid., p. 31). The good news, at least for lawyers and judges in the USA, is that a great future demand has been forecast for them (ibid., pp. 44 and 95).
If we look at another survey among students in the USA, the UK, South Africa and China, lawyers already have the most important competence thanks to their education and training: problem solving skills. Yet when it comes to the subsequent four, i.e. communication skills, decision-making skills, leadership skills and strategy skills, it is rather more likely that something remains to be done about them.
A 2021 report by McKinsey&Company differentiates between four categories (cognitive, interpersonal, self-leadership and digital) and 56 basic skills. Here, the focus is on critical thinking and good communication skills, team and relationship skills, self-competence and digital competencies. Furthermore, it was established that certain skills correlate with a higher degree of probability of having work in the future (e.g. adaptability and coping with uncertainties), of attaining a higher income (e.g. self-confidence) and of achieving greater job satisfaction (e.g. self-motivation). All these are points that are also relevant to lawyers.
Finally, the 2021 Global Skills Report by Coursera makes a distinction between the following three skills: business, technology and data. Here, particular attention is obviously paid to competencies required to deal with data and technology. Inter alia, the following relevant results can be derived from all these studies:
Knowledge work will remain crucial
If we conceive of lawyers as knowledge workers, they will continue to remain in demand. To remain interesting, however, their professional expertise must be enriched in various ways in order to increase customer benefit. With legal knowledge alone, lawyers will find it difficult to succeed in the market.
Business and management – an evergreen
Law firms and legal departments must be run according to business management criteria. The times are gone when lawyers determined the costs and were allowed to produce legal advice “at any cost”. The perspective will shift from input orientation to output orientation. Basic issues such as strategy, business models, operations and project management will become more important. Accordingly, financial knowledge will become relevant to enable lawyers to run their own business more efficiently, to understand their customers better and thus to provide them with appropriate legal advice.
Leadership – when human resources count
In autumn 2021, headlines appeared, particularly in the United States, which only seemed to be devoted to one issue: the salaries of first-year associates and bonuses that were being paid by firms to win the “war for talent” (attraction instead of attrition). This approach may require rudimentary financial knowledge, but it leaves questions regarding leadership – unless, of course, the assumption is that lawyers can solely be attracted and motivated with money. Particularly in this day and age, in which companies are increasingly having to face their customers’ questions with regard to sustainability (ESG comes to mind), they are passing this requirement on to their suppliers (e.g. law firms). This should also be taken into consideration in HR management. This is not least about questions of attitude and values (keyword: purpose), which are becoming increasingly more important to younger employees, and how employers represent themselves and are perceived by the outside world. An increasingly complex composition of employees (with regard to age, gender, origin, education and training and values, among other things) is making changing and increasing demands on HR management. In particular, this also calls for cross-cultural awareness and a high degree of emotional intelligence and empathy.
Technical skills and data competence (data analytics)
Technology has come to stay. The pandemic has not only confirmed this impressively but has reinforced it. This is not about communicating by e-mail or being able to look for the latest court rulings in the internet. Rather, you must be able to better understand and assess the new, digital business models and the relevance of technology and data for your customers in order to be able to offer the legal appraisal expected of you in a useful and valuable manner. Once this first step has been taken, one can then also consider which work in one’s own legal value chain can be digitised or outsourced.
In the first place, the bad news for lawyers consists in the fact that the demanding and lengthy legal education and training merely constitutes the admission ticket required to be able to work in legal service provision. Subsequently, excellence as a legal adviser is not solely acquired through great professional experience, but also through continually broadening one’s own knowledge competence. Thus in future, retaining one’s own employability will call for more than merely the customarily expected further education in legal subjects. This leads directly to the good news: in this way, a great number of lawyers with different skills will emerge who do not merely want to be measured and compared against the yardstick of grades in law school. The future of the entire legal market will become more colourful and complex, both with regard to the recruitment of lawyers and the selection of legal advisers by customers. Or, to put it differently: lawyers will have to offer at least “more for the same”.