The Forward-Facing Lawyer: 4 Skills to Impress the Most Progressive Firms

My 12-year-old self had false hope from watching Mike Ross’ seemingly simplistic (albeit illegal) route to securing a position at a top fictitious firm, Pearson Darby Specter. 7 years on, I have come realise that Suits is not the most realistic career guide.

Unbeknown to many aspiring lawyers, the journey into the legal sector requires more than merely a law degree. Developing the following four skills – in addition to your legal knowledge – will impress the most progressive firms and differentiate yourself as a client-focused lawyer of the future.

1. Coding

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly prevalent within law firms, due to its ability to decrease costs and increase productivity and accessibility to justice. Cognitive computing is a form of AI commonly used by firms to document and analyse documentation.

However, the omnipresence of AI does not mean that you are in competition with R2-D2 for a training contract. Lawyers will never be superseded by robots; however, they should consider developing skills such as coding to demonstrate their capability in working with recent technological advancements. Technical expertise in coding/computing is a requisite for providing distinguishable and strategic advice for digital clients. This expertise has been promoted by many top firms. For example, firms have offered legal tech training contracts; set up legal tech accelerators (Allen & Overy’s ‘Fuse’ and Slaughter and May’s ‘Collaborate’); and focused on developing expertise surrounding coding, AI and blockchain (Clifford Chance’s ‘Tech Academy’).

2. Emotional Intelligence

The traditional lawyer is perceived to wear a permanent frown as an accessory to their ice-cold exterior, with the emotional capacity of a goldfish. This damaging stereotype calls for positive change within the legal industry.

“Law is human interaction in emotionally evocative climates. Any lawyer who can understand what emotions are present and why is at tremendous advantage” – Ronda Muir, The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Law Firm, page 33

Emotional intelligence enables a lawyer to understand and manage emotions as well as use emotions to facilitate thinking. Understanding the sensitivity of a client’s situation enables you to approach client-lawyer interactions with care and to put clients at ease. Linklaters have taken a particular interest in emotional engagement, providing psychometric tests and resilience programmes to ensure employees are mindful of their social interactions. Aspiring lawyers can demonstrate this attribute through customer service related roles and volunteering positions.

3. Social Sensitivity

In light of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the continuous drive for gender diversity from the LGBTQ+ community, the forward-facing lawyer should be educated on the struggle for equality in and out of the workplace. The involvement in promoting justice in such schemes demonstrates a progressive attitude and awareness of key issues, vital to the recurring client-centric theme.

“The most recent statistics show only 8% of partners in UK law firms are from an ethnic minority” – Chambers Student

Firms such as Kirkland & Ellis, Hogan Lovells and Cooley have committed to improving workplace equality. Recently, Cooley has donated approximately $750,000 to the Equal Justice Initiative and their Black Attorney Affinity Group has produced educational resources surrounding racism. Firms favour socially aware candidates to help drive positive change in the legal industry.

4. Cybersecurity

Cybercrime is becoming more sophisticated, meaning firms need lawyers familiar with cybersecurity to help mitigate digital risks. An understanding of this area will definitely make you a unique candidate. Threats include ransomware, phishing attacks, website vulnerabilities and distributed denial of service attacks. Following the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation in 2018 and from an ethical standpoint, lawyers are responsible for ensuring client’s data remains confidential.

“73 of the UK top 100 firms are targeted for cybercrime and 90% of the top UK 25 firms have experienced a cyber-threat” – CYFOR

The growing digital landscape means that firms have to cater for more cyber clients. DLA Piper has made a significant contribution to the legal aspect of cybercrime, providing services such as a 24 hour ‘Rapid Response’ hotline for businesses; lessons in cybersecurity for businesses; and a data privacy report service for organisations.

FREE resources to make me a forward-facing lawyer

  1. Code Academy coding courses
  2. Coding course specifically for lawyers provided by Harvard
  3. Sign up for legal tech updates from Legal Geek
  4. Sign up for updates and insights on developing skills for an o-shaped lawyer
  5. Legal volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau
  6. Future Learn’s ‘Cultural Diversity in the Workplace’ course
  7. Future Learn’s LGBTQ+ courses
  8. Tools to help instigate positive social change as a lawyer
  9. Cybersecurity courses
  10. On demand cybersecurity webinars
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