All change: as tech turns lawyers into design thinkers and even app developers, their employers seek recruits with rounded skills © Efi Chalikopoulou

From climate change and labour rights to cross-border deals amid geopolitical tensions, lawyers face increasingly complex challenges. And, as digitisation transforms every sphere of practice, firms want their lawyers to become far more collaborative and multidisciplinary.

Changing client demands are partly behind this, including the pressure from in-house lawyers to cut costs that is prompting a shift from billable hours. This, along with the digitisation of many mundane legal tasks, calls for lawyers to be more strategic in their advice.

“For a results-driven client, you have to think like the client and understand enough about their business sector to scope out what you need to do for them,” says Philip Anderson, professor of entrepreneurship at French business school Insead’s Singapore campus and programme director of the SAL-Insead Law Firm Leadership Programme. “That, more than anything else, is driving the need for new expertise.”

Case studies: people and skills

Firms are using inventive ways to train their lawyers and other staff to use tech, data, and a creative approach to problem-solving. Scroll down to read case studies in best practice.

Meanwhile, as technology transforms the way lawyers do their jobs — particularly when working from spare rooms and kitchen tables — law firms and in-house lawyers have recognised the need to make digitisation available to all. 

At Chevron Australia, for example, Schellie-Jayne Price — the energy group’s senior legal counsel, negotiations and legal — worked with the IT director to create a “tech café” modelled on Apple’s Genius Bar. During the pandemic, the café went virtual, to keep experts available to employees. “They were able to provide real-time remote assistance,” says Price.

While digital literacy is essential, Berkeley Cox, chief executive partner, Australia, at King & Wood Mallesons, cites another type of literacy that his firm looks for when building legal teams: “Asian literacy”. By this, he means an understanding of the challenges specific to the Asia-Pacific region.

Among these are the need to tackle emerging priorities — such as environmental, social and governance (ESG) approaches to business and the law, which require “a broader understanding of what’s at play in the world”.

As ESG is a factor in practice areas from procurement to energy and labour rights, it also demands organisational changes. Where once law firm leaders might have simply created a new, separate practice, says Anderson, “that won’t work because ESG cuts across all your engagements”. 

Nor, he says, does building ESG capabilities mean hiring environmental law experts. “What’s wanted for a young lawyer is the ability to connect the dots, putting legal advice in the broader framework of what the client is trying to accomplish,” he says. “One does not learn how to do that in law school.”

There is also a need for other skills that have not traditionally been part of legal job descriptions, says Price. “Empathy, curiosity and an entrepreneurial spirit are pretty key,” she says. “You need someone with a growth mindset who is open to new ideas.”

Encouraging this openness was among the reasons why, in May 2020 as the pandemic took hold, KWM went ahead with its “transformation programme”. Its purpose was to prepare staff for everything from the digitisation of legal processes and changing client demands to competition from new market entrants. In addition to putting young lawyers through digital boot camps, the firm created incentives to encourage KWM lawyers to work in different ways. For example, “the multiplier” allows them to record internally 1.5 hours for every hour spent using digital techniques on a client matter. While the client is billed for one hour, the multiplier encourages the lawyers to try out new tech.

Promoting the use of technology was why Indian law firm Anand and Anand chose Zoho Creator as a development platform. It requires only limited coding knowledge, enabling non-IT experts to become “citizen developers”. Among the resulting innovations was a virtual version of the firm’s annual carnival, hosted on Zoho Creator. Run during Diwali, the festival of lights, the virtual event let family members to participate for the first time, “engaging people during these tough times”, says Rajiv Maheshwari, Anand and Anand chief executive.

The platform also facilitates design thinking, an approach that focuses on the user experience and relies on prototyping and testing to develop solutions to problems. “This is a sea change, as the user is also a process designer who can also implement the system on their own,” says Maheshwari.

As technology turns lawyers into anything from design thinkers to app developers, the pressure is on to attract, retain and develop lawyers with more rounded skills, says Price.

However, firms and in-house teams may benefit from the idea that the new ways of working appeal to ambitious young lawyers. “If I was a young lawyer graduating, I would be very excited,” she says. “Because I’ll get to do more of what I want to do as a lawyer.” 

Case studies in best practice

Researched and compiled by RSG Consulting. “Winner” indicates that the organisation won an FT Innovative Lawyers 2021 award; other organisations are listed alphabetically.

People and skills

Firms are using inventive ways to train their lawyers and other staff to use tech, data, and a creative approach to problem-solving.

WINNER: King & Wood Mallesons

© Getty Images

Lawyers at the firm are encouraged to dedicate 30 billable hours a year to improving their digital literacy as part of a programme of digital transformation; engagement is tracked using dashboards. The firm has created incentives for lawyers to make better use of technology, with a multiplier applied to their billable time. For every four billable hours, the lawyer can record six hours for internal purposes if they use tech as part of their job. The scheme has led to a very substantial increase in the adoption of technology.

The firm created “innovation squads” in each of its practice groups to encourage employees to engage with innovation. Made up of lawyers and business professionals in the firm, these squads identify problem areas and develop solutions to help clients.

Anand and Anand
Business staff at the law firm have been trained to be “citizen developers”. The initiative used design thinking — based on user experience, and testing via quick prototypes — and agile working principles along with the low-code suite of software developed by Zoho, an Indian company, to create new apps.

Lander & Rogers
The firm designed a programme to train undergraduate law students at Monash University in Melbourne. Participants learnt about design-thinking processes and agile methodologies. They worked on clients’ real-life challenges and used legal technology to devise solutions.

Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co
The firm has implemented a continuous-learning programme to train lawyers in emotional intelligence, managerial skills and how to manage client relationships. Employees use an online platform to view training videos, which are recommended for them by a system that uses artificial intelligence.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window) CommentsJump to comments section

Follow the topics in this article