Shaping the legal industry of the future – insights on opportunities for law graduates
By Claire Walden and Ema Dobos
Claire Walden and Ema Dobos share their insights on new roles and opportunities for law students in a fast-changing legal landscape
We were delighted to join the panel at the recent CCLS ‘Career Options for Law Graduates’ event. The evening proved to be a great opportunity for LLM students to connect with industry professionals who have chosen career paths beyond the usual large law firms and for panellists to meet an inspiring new generation of law graduates. Panellists included Claire Walden (Legal Knowledge Engineer) and Ema Dobos (Legal Engineer) from Wavelength.law, Giovanna Carloni (Associate) and Veronika Havlova (Analyst) from Promontory, Rajiv Kapur (EMEA Financial Crime Compliance COO) from Goldman Sachs, Alexander Platt (Regional Governance Manager for the CEEMEA) from Willis Towers Watson, Margaret Haig from the IPO, Matt Gardiner from Legal and General and Jamie Sim (Product Trainee) from Invesco. After hearing from each of the panellists about their role and how they got where they are today in their different organisations, a lively high-speed Q&A session kicked off, with panellists sharing their insights on non-traditional routes into law and the sort of skills students should focus on for the future of the profession. With time set aside at the end for a more relaxed networking session, panellists and students were able to continue exploring current trends and opportunities in law and how the legal profession is changing and innovating in response to developments in legal technology.
This type of careers event should be embraced in the educational sector as it provides students with a different perspective on career options once they complete their training and also inspires them to look beyond the professional roles of solicitor and barrister.
News and hype around how the legal industry and jobs are changing due to technology - whether it’s in the rise of blockchain technology enabling computerised contracts or other ‘AI’ related legal technology - can make it difficult for students to get a true understanding of what is really happening in the market today. What is clear is that disruption in the legal sector is here and is forcing change. Those law firms and in-house legal departments that leverage technology in the right way and engage with people with the right skills, will be at the forefront of delivering quality and efficiency gains. In turn, the education sector needs to adapt to help law students understand the impact of AI (and more particularly machine learning) on the legal sector and the opportunities that are likely to flow from that disruption.
When we look at market trends, we see law firms increasing investment in technology to automate tasks and improve decision making. New and hybrid roles are emerging with law firms increasingly looking to attract a diverse pool of talent and hiring more employees with different backgrounds and skills that can complement and support legal teams. We see a rise in legal tech incubators based within law firms (Fuse at Allen & Overy and MDR LAB at Mishcon De Reya being two examples), a growth in R&D initiatives in-house, and some firms starting to offer legal tech training contracts. Here at Wavelength we recognise that the effective use of legal tech requires the net to be cast widely – be it chemists for data science, mathematicians for statistics, philosophers for logic, or artists for their visual ideas. Our business comprises multi-disciplinary teams of data scientists, data analysts, legal and knowledge engineers, legal designers, lawyers and legal operations.
One of the questions addressed to the Career Options panel was ‘What are the skills that legal businesses are looking for and that students need to focus on?’ Our answer is for students to understand that lawyers increasingly need to be what IBM described as T-Shaped individuals.
To illustrate this concept, the vertical axis represents the subject area knowledge and expertise that law students gain at university and then through traditional legal practice. However, students and professionals need to have a breadth of knowledge and skills outside of their main area of legal expertise. The horizontal axis shows the sorts of other disciplines that need to sit around the lawyer. Lawyers don’t need to understand everything that's going on under the legal tech 'bonnet', but they do need to have those broader skills along with a curiosity and drive to explore and exploit the opportunities that emerging technologies create.
The challenge for today’s student of law is to stay focused on building a solid foundation of legal knowledge – that’s always been what makes a good lawyer – and at the same time, to join the conversation around how the legal market is changing. Understanding the need for new skills, new roles and collaborative ways of working are key. As future professionals, law students need to be given more opportunities to gain hands-on experience of legal tech and begin learning those skills that are going to help individuals thrive in a fast-changing legal landscape.