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Tech skills needed for law firms in the future

The University Legal Technology Research Academy (ULTRA) is our Technology Research Academy keeping ahead of the curve of all things tech in the legal profession. 

Simon George shares his thoughts on the skills needed in law firms of the future.

By Editorial Team. Published 16 December 2020. Last updated 24 February 2021.

Simon George, Associate Professor at The University of Law, qualified as a solicitor in 2002 at Pinsent Masons where he specialised in banking. Simon had a varied caseload dealing with loan book acquisitions, traditional loans, project finance and invoice discounting work. Simon joined the University in 2006, teaching Business Law and Practice and Debt Finance at the Moorgate campus. Simon has looked after key clients for a number of years and has been the programme leader for many large firms, including Linklaters. Three years ago, he took some time out from teaching in order to research the use of technology in law firms and has recently helped launch the ULTRA team. Here. Simon shares his thoughts on the skills needed in law firms of the future.

The law is changing - are you prepared? Law is undergoing a radical change with the introduction of software which will revolutionise the legal industry. Change is coming, slowly at first, but it is coming. Everyone needs to adapt to stay ahead of the curve.

Some things that are changing - Adaptability

I was in a cab coming back from Chelmsford and the cab driver asked me if I thought it would be quicker to go via the ring road or to go straight through town. I was quite surprised by the question, then I saw that he wasn't using sat nav. He’d obviously spent a lot of time and effort memorising street names and traffic patterns, but my phone could effortlessly outperform his decades of experience. In the legal industry we need to learn from this example – when a skill is obsolete, even if we have spent thousands of hours perfecting it, we have to let it go and embrace the new technology that outperforms us. And once we learn the new technology, we need to be able to let that go if in turn it becomes obsolete given the immaturity of the legal tech market at the moment. Flexibility and adaptability will be invaluable in law firms for the next 10 years at least.

Understanding tech

Lawyers won’t need to have degrees in software engineering or be able to code, but they will have to understand how technology works. They need to understand the fundamental building blocks of software packages and what those software packages can do.

If you don’t know what an expert system is, or what machine learning is then it becomes very hard to communicate effectively in an increasingly tech driven world. Let the technology department program and configure the software for you but you need to be able to speak the same language as them.

Changing behaviours

I’ll talk about one behaviour lawyers need to acquire: being opportunistic. Lawyers are busy people. It is usually all we can do to survive the current deal or project and keep our head above water. However, there are opportunities being squandered because lawyers don’t have the time, the energy or the inclination to be proactive in looking for new ways to solve problems or add value to clients. Law firms need to free up the time, and lawyers need to embrace opportunities. The University of Law has partnered with the O-shaped lawyer to create the first courses to instil these behaviours.

Some things that are not changing…

Tech can help with drafting documents, but it won’t replace the need for need for lawyers to freehand draft bespoke clauses a lot of the time. Software really helps with the framework of the document. It will replace that age old need to stitch different precedents together, but the complex bespoke drafting will still need to be done by humans. The mundane part will go, but the skill still remains necessary.

Law is a people business, and that won’t change anytime soon. All the soft people skills you needed before, you still need just as much. Tech won’t change any of that.

For ideas on tech, and how they affect the law, See videos on tech and how it affects law.