AltaClaro Mar 29, 2021 10:00:00 AM 12 min read

The Future of Legal Work: Filling in the Gaps of Traditional Legal Training

The future of work is coming fast—and it may already be here. When we wrote our first blog post on the Future of Legal Work back in 2019, there was no way to anticipate COVID-19 and its profound impact across the globe. Day-to-day operations for organizations across industries, including legal services, are already vastly different from what they used to be before the pandemic. The significant changes COVID-19 brought to the ways people socialize, go to school, and work—essentially, how they live their lives—have forced organizations to adapt if they want to survive.

Clio’s 2020 Legal Trends Report observes that 2020 has seen a “rate of technology adoption in the span of a few months that would have otherwise taken more than a decade to accomplish.” According to their survey data, more and more legal firms are moving to the cloud, with 7% of legal professionals letting go of their commercial office space after the pandemic began, and 12% unsure if they will keep their commercial space in the future. Furthermore, Clio found that 76% of legal professionals believe that legal services can be streamlined when conducted virtually, and 37% said that in the future, most if not all lawyers should run their practice virtually. 

The Future of Work is the Future of Legal Work

Because the attorney role is already so specialized and highly-trained, some lawyers may think they are immune to this digital revolution. They are incorrect: the legal industry is changing at a consistently rapid pace, fueled by changes, growth, and development in technology, multinational business, globalism, and communication. In order to be successful, lawyers will have to not only keep up but also stay ahead of the changing market.

There are several factors that will drastically alter what is demanded of attorneys:

  1. Automation—of anything that can be automated
  2. Millennials becoming the crux of the workplace
  3. Evolving client needs
  4. The shift to the cloud

Because of these factors, traditional attorney methodology and legacy practice focuses are quickly becoming obsolete;  some predict that nearly half of all lawyer roles will disappear in the coming decade. So how do lawyers navigate these inevitable paradigm shifts and solidify their relevance and necessity in a rapidly shifting market? 

Bridging the Legal Education Gap

Attorneys Need Business Skills, Not Just Legal Skills

Except for a handful of elite attorneys, knowledge of law alone is insufficient for a successful legal career. The global paradigm shift from labor-intensive industries to digitized, automated, and multinational work environments demands new skill sets from attorneys, which ultimately means upskilling and reskilling—i.e.,  more training. More than ever before, clients are facing heavy pressure to achieve more results with less money, and they are rethinking their needs with regard to their legal services.

In an environment where needs are urgent but purses are tight, lawyers are expected to be cost-effective, scalable, predictable, and accessible around the clock. They are also expected to understand their clients' businesses, competitive landscapes, and legal and business risks. 

Clio’s 2020 Legal Trends Report found that more and more lawyers embraced technology this past year: 

  • 85% of law firms are using software to manage their practice
  • 79% of lawyers are storing their firm’s data on the cloud. 
  • 62% of firms allow clients to securely share and sign documents electronically
  • 73% allow clients to pay invoices electronically. 

As we look to the future, we can only expect that even more legal firms will adopt cloud technologies in order to work more efficiently and provide better services to clients. 

Law Schools Can't (or Won't) Fill the Skills Gap

Law schools have largely failed to anticipate and adapt to today’s rapidly changing environment, creating deep learning gaps within legal education. The majority of law schools have kept their doctrinal approach intact, with curricula staying focused on knowing the law as it is. But these traditional models no longer fit the market and thus may not be adequately preparing future attorneys for success. The pandemic has also undoubtedly posed challenges to the very way that law schools educate and structure their programs, with some saying that many law schools were slow to adapt to digital solutions before the pandemic, and have only recently accelerated that adaptation because the pandemic forced them to quickly implement online class delivery.

The ultimate goal of the majority of law schools and legal education programs is to guide attorneys through the ways in which they can ‘think like a lawyer’ and select a focus in order to become practice-centric. Practice skills, business skills, operational skills, and technology skills—well, those are someone else's problem. The majority of education for law schools has also taken place in physical classrooms, and while some have managed to conduct learning uninterrupted, it remains to be seen how long law schools will maintain their digital learning environments once students are able to safely return to the classroom. 

Law Firms Aren't Filling the Gap

Traditionally, new attorneys gained practical skills under an apprenticeship model, learning from mentors at their law firms. But with partners under more pressure to bring in business and bill, mentorship opportunities are fewer and farther in between. Many (not all!) firms have a sink-or-swim mentality, with the "swimmers" expected to just "figure it out." Those that do have training programs often use traditional tools from legacy vendors that haven't kept up with advancements in educational theory and technology—they simply are not interactive and experiential. In this environment, getting the right experience to drive your career forward can be a matter of luck and timing.

Ask yourself this: from a career development standpoint, are you and your firm's incentives aligned? Can you rely on them for the mentorship and training you need? Do you want your success to be a function of outside forces or your own strength, motivation, and hard work?

An Opportunity for Motivated,  Adaptable Attorneys

High-caliber attorneys with specialized business and technical skills remain in short supply, meaning that excellent opportunities exist for those who are able to adapt to this market. How can you be one of them?

  1. Adopt a learning-for-life mindset and stay in tune with the market and its rapid evolution. Building skills and sophistication in tech-based realms like data analytics (and anything to do with data, quite frankly), as well as a keen understanding of current business processes and project management, is vital.
  2. Embrace the idea of personal branding and the necessity of acting like a business entity with multiple offerings tailored to the market around them, as opposed to a cog in the wheel of big law.
  3. Seek experiential legal education programs that are in tune with market needs and offer learners real-world practice and the chance to evolve into a specialist in an area that is in high demand today, such as data, technology, and cross-border/multinational issues.
  4. Seek out mentors with whom you can have frank conversations about your career and the legal industry itself. But remember that many of these mentors came of age in a much different legal market. Consider expanding your stable of mentors beyond the legal industry—talk to people who have been successful in business development, technology, marketing, and other areas.

Adaptability and a deep understanding of market needs have become the mark of a successful attorney in this era, and that trend will only continue. Attorneys who understand the changing needs of the market, embrace technology, and are able to evolve quickly via on-demand educational resources will "win" the future of legal work.

Stay tuned for more coverage of the changing legal marketplace and the role of continuing education in helping legal professionals embrace the future of legal work. To schedule a time to learn more about how AltaClaro can empower your associates to hit the ground running, schedule a demo today.