What it means to be a 21st century lawyer

Businesses are increasingly looking for innovative new ways of ensuring they remain commercially competitive in a constantly evolving market, and the legal industry is no exception. What was once considered to be a traditional sector is now becoming more commercially focused – and lawyers are continuously adapting their skill sets to keep up with this growing trend.

One of the most challenging aspects is encouraging legal professionals to build on the core skills required to be a lawyer in today’s modernised legal industry. Here, we take a look at the importance of adaptability in the evolving legal industry, as well as exactly what it means to be a lawyer in the 21st century.

Challenges faced

As with any period of significant change, the shift to a new way of working in a more tech-focused legal industry could pose a number of issues for those accustomed to more traditional methods. Younger legal professionals are likely to be well-tuned with regard to using technology as part of their daily lives, but their older, more experienced counterparts could potentially find this switch to more tech-focused roles more of a challenge. Technology is becoming increasingly important, and being tech-savvy is now a huge advantage for legal candidates who are looking to switch roles. Technology is changing ways of working across all industries, and now, the legal industry too is seeking staff who can provide insight into making existing processes more efficient.

Additionally, legal professionals of all ages and experience levels are bound to experience some degree of difficulty as their role becomes more multi-dimensional. Providing legal advice is incredibly complicated and time consuming by its own merits, so the challenge is finding time to also develop the commercial aspects necessary to fit in with the industry as it evolves. For this reason, while time management is an essential requirement for many roles, it is certainly a key priority for legal professionals in the digital age. It is vital that the modern lawyer possesses softer skills such as emotional intelligence, good communication, business acumen and the ability to manage several projects simultaneously in order to fit in well with the workings of their organisation.

Characteristics of a 21st century lawyer

To be a 21st century lawyer is to be multi-dimensional. Providing first-rate legal advice is, of course, still essential, but now lawyers are tasked with establishing where they can add value to the organisations they are employed by. In recent times, we have seen an increase in the requirement for legal staff to provide tailored commercial advice within legal firms, on top of the necessary legal expertise. 

This commercial acumen is relatively new in terms of legal industry requirements, but it is particularly telling of the direction the sector is moving in. Continued pressures to save on costs means that law firms are combining services and bringing elements in house that previously may have been outsourced. As a result, the staff employed by these evolving firms are facing pressures to become an 'all-rounder' with many transferable skills.

Leadership skills and adaptability are two further necessary skills displayed by the 21st century lawyer. However, it is now also necessary to have a solid understanding of the organisation they work for, while working collaboratively with all stakeholders to help streamline processes and save money for the business. Along with many other industries, the legal sector is also harnessing the power of social media to promote its services and engage with relevant audiences. For this reason, modern lawyers are expected to use this platform to create a strong market presence and profile to set themselves apart from others. The legal sector is placing an increasing focus on personal branding as an essential aspect of its staff development, and lawyers are more commonly expected to convey the core values of the business on social media platforms.

The 21st century lawyer is multifaceted and is expected to possess the core skills and knowledge required to become a legal professional, with the addition of several further attributes to ensure they are a good fit in an evolving business. The role of a lawyer is never easy, but this shift to a more commercial, 'all-rounder' professional that has a depth of specialist and generalist knowledge promises an exciting future for the industry as a whole.

Hannah Cottam, Group Director, Sellick Partnership

Hannah Cottam

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