Future proof your legal career - 4 sure fire ways to prepare for change
One of the great benefits of Peerpoint’s recent “The Future for Legal Talent Report” has been to better understand the key challenges lawyers identify as the profession changes. For Peerpoint, this means they can ultimately help their lawyers prepare and be ahead of the curve. Some 83% of lawyers who took part in Peerpoint’s study were aware that big change is happening, with 61% believing technology won’t replace them but in fact help support and augment their roles. While most change will happen gradually, there is no denying that lawyers will need to start equipping themselves with new and broader skills to remain relevant to clients. At Beyond Billables, we agree with Peerpoint that the future is a positive one that’s full of opportunity, but also a future that you need to start preparing for.
To best prepare, we have looked through Peerpoint’s results and identified four key areas all lawyers can focus on to “future proof” their careers:
Being known as an expert
Building strong networks
Developing better commercial awareness.
Over 70% of respondents acknowledged technological change as the biggest driver of market change and it is not hard to see why. The problem is, just 30% of lawyers felt that their training prepared them well for such changes. With an overwhelming 84% understanding they need new skills, there is a clear gap between knowing and doing something about it.
So how do we move apace as new technologies like AI and smart contracts evolve? The first step is to have a thorough understanding of how they can improve your client service delivery in the short term. Keep up to date, read, go along to seminars and develop your skills.
This does not mean learning to code, but it does mean thinking about how you can add value to clients with better ways to do things.
It certainly doesn’t mean taking up technology just for the sake of it. Each practice needs to consider how new options can improve their efficiency and client service and asses them on their merits.
Technology will also create great organisational change. One of the beauties of Peerpoint is in its ability to take advantage of Allen & Overy's resources, while still providing consultants with choice and flexibility. Making sure you are part of an organisation that takes technology change seriously will be critical for lawyers making future career decisions.
Being known as an expert
As good as you are, if your clients don't value your work, or feel you stand out, they're likely to take their business elsewhere. As the legal industry changes firms and lawyers alike can no longer rest on their laurels and past deeds. This is well known amongst the profession. Some 42% of respondents recognised that a stronger personal brand and network were amongst the most important skills that a lawyer of the future will need.
Being known as a trusted expert requires not only producing outstanding work, but building a personal profile as well. This profile is internal as well as external.
Lawyers who are able to master intrapreneurship skills are more likely to find success in their chosen organisations.
None of this means that you have to go out and start writing blogs, start your own podcast or create a national brand (although creating your own content is great way of raising external profile). Being known as an expert matters to the clients and organisations that you want to work with, so to some extent that guides how you want to promote yourself. Being a trusted expert as a lawyer means both being known as having great skills, and being known as providing a great service. It certainly doesn't mean being “the cheapest”. This has unfortunately been the only way a lot of firms have differentiated their services.
So what can you do to prepare? Be aware of your profile. Make sure you approach your client services with a view to creating real value and be conscious that great service goes hand in hand with great work. This is important whether you're a consultant working for a big financial services firm, or a practitioner out on your own. Being known as an expert doesn't happen by accident.
Building strong networks
Referral work is the life blood of so many practices, but how we nurture these relationships has barely changed in the last decade. Whether it is building client networks, or better connections within the profession, it's critical for practitioners to consciously grow their relationships. Relationship building no longer starts and stops at the firm's golf day. It is a constant investment in finding mutual value with others.
Do you have a plan to nurture your referral network that you are executing? Are you even aware of exactly where your work comes from, and how you can build on those relationships? These are some pretty fundamental questions for future proofing any practice.
What are some practical ways you can do this?
Get involved in industry events
Create more varied opportunities to meet with clients and give them value
Be open to and more active collaborating with other lawyers where there is value for both sides
Have a distinct plan and automate parts of your network building.
Developing better commercial awareness
Finally, commercial lawyers have always known they need other skills to be successful. In a world where other service providers and commoditised options are increasingly competing it is important that lawyers improve their ability to understand their clients commercial interests. The future-proof lawyer is investing in their skills through further study, doing MBA's or other courses. Many firms have recognised this need for a long time and have viewed self-starters who were willing to invest in developing better commercial skills as highly valuable.
Growing better commercial skills can just mean having a better understanding of your client’s business, such as what the drivers are to its success, what the businesses challenges are, and how the market impacts on them. These drivers might not be about the business as a whole but about the group that you are working with and what their situation is. Ultimately, successful future lawyers will have a broad commercial skill set that can add value.
As is so apparent from “The Future for Legal Talent Report”, lawyers are well aware of the need for change in their skill sets and approaches to better service clients into the future. Through improved technological know-how, stronger profiles, more investment in their networks and building commercial skills successful practitioners of the future will be well placed to deliver excellence for their clients.