Friday, 27 August 2010

End of Lawyers and the Legal Services Act and Impact on Law Practice

In a recent blog post ‘End of Lawyers and the Legal Services Act’  I mentioned some of the current challenges facing those of us that run law firms.  These include the need to become deeply multidisciplinary, and also to provide the more innovative solutions the market needs in order to drive down costs. 

In my area of practice – which is Internet and IP law – ‘multidisciplinary’ essentially means having a solid grasp of IT.  So, although like most growing businesses, I am constantly preoccupied with thoughts about what services to offer and who to employ, there is this underlying essential requirement that any staff hired should be highly IT savvy. 

One of the advantages of being a regulated law firm is that there is no shortage of highly motivated and talented ‘would be’ lawyers constantly knocking on the door in search of work experience.  However, surprisingly few of them offer the level of IT competence we ideally want to see in candidates.  Being in their early 20’s I would have thought they would emerge from their studies extremely proficient in IT, but that is rarely the case.  The level of knowledge of Outlook, Word, Spreadsheets, and other applications often leaves much to be desired, and as a small law firm we simply do not have time to train people up in these areas.  They need to be able to hit the ground running.  I've learnt that a distinction in the LPC, or a First in Law, is generally not indicative of suitability to work in a fast paced environment like ours where the ability to multi task, to be practical, learn fast, and have common sense, are more likely to lead to success. 

Similarly, the ability to write is such a key asset to be able to offer an online business such as Azrights – but this is unfortunately not a skill generally evident among those who are aspiring to become lawyers.  

Therefore, offering advanced IT or writing skills would stand out from the crowd of CVs.  My advice to ‘would be’ lawyers, for what it’s worth, is to acquire these skills and once you have them highlight your abilities in your CV.

Currently law graduates offering work experience in related areas, such as journalism, marketing, PR, internet marketing or web design are more attractive than those who just offer law, regardless of class of law degree. So instead of focusing purely on legal knowledge and learning - which is actually rarely a unique selling point given the level of competition out there among law graduates - it is better to acquire these wider skills.  In my view, this upskilling, and acquring a good understanding of marketing, would enable a law graduate to stand out from the crowd and stand a good chance of getting a training contract in this fiercely competitive market.

The world of law is indeed changing rapidly, and the sooner this is reflected in the education ‘would be’ lawyers receive the better for everyone.  Those finding it difficult to get a toe hold in the profession, would also benefit from reading Richard Susskind's books and the article by Stephen Mayson both of which are hyperlinked in my earlier blog post mentioned above.  An understanding of the market forces that are changing the face of the legal world will help the new generation of 'would be' lawyers to understand the type of skills they may need to acquire. 


  1. It is indeed miserable if aspiring lawyers do not write well. The expression of advice is a critcal and core skill that must be taught both on law degrees and the LPC.
    IT skills come much earlier in schools. Very good piece on typing by lawyers here from legal IT Supplier Iken

  2. Michael Deans made this comment to the group. I feel obliged to reproduce it since working for his then the firm was my first job:

    When I was the Recruitment Partner at Lloyd Wise, before becoming a solo practitioner, the only aspiring Patent Attorney candidates who got to interview were those who included on their CV one or more of acting, active membership of a political club or student union, membership of an essay club, writing for the student newspaper or (particularly) debating as activities they got up to at University besides getting their Degree, and the only ones from this group who were recruited were those who could fluently explain verbally how a paperclip works. With this background, teaching them enough law to pass the CIPA Exams was easy. Nowadays, I would probably look for some IT proficiency as well.

    Michael Deans, M.J.P. Deans

  3. Very good article by Iken. However, there is far more to IT literacy than being able to type. What has surprised me is that despite the fact that the younger generation are growing up with computers, they still have too much to learn. I'm going to be able to assess the extent to which 17 year olds differ from those law gradudates in their 20s when I seen how my 17 year old daughter fares when she comes to work for us next week. In her school IT has been on the agenda right from a young age so we'll see... I suspect she will have a lot to learn because the problem I was alluding to, is more that of IT education not continuing to sufficiently advanced levels. Possibly IT literacy should be part of University or professional syllabuses?

  4. Shireen, I agree in part. An ability to write and communicate is very important. So is an ability to type (my late father, with great foresight, sent me on a touch typing course at the age of 16), and an ability to master Microsoft programs.

    Where I differ is that I don't think it would affect my decision to employ a lawyer as to how "up to speed" they are on working with spreadsheets or other programs, as long as they have the ability to work it out for themselves. Nor would I focus, particularly, on someone who has skills in "journalism, marketing, PR, internet marketing or web design". I am looking for someone who is (1) a very good lawyer, (2) good at dealing with clients and with other parties, and (3) the right fit for our firm. Point (3) may well include having practical skills such as IT and marketing, but these are by no means dominant requirements.

    It is good that employers look for different things, so we won't end up with clones in the legal profession :)

  5. Hi Shireen

    Absolutely spot on. Couldn't agree more. I was alerted to your post from a comment on Law Society Blog post Frustrated Lawyers R Us.Plan B Mutiny?
    I reckon we're on the same page and singing from the same mast :-)


    Chrissie - The Entrepreneur Lawyer