How to prepare for a legal career in 2022

How to prepare for a legal career in 2022

Career progression for a solicitor or barrister in the UK remained largely unchanged for centuries, with many traditions surviving to this day. Law firms’ business models and expectations placed on junior lawyers meant that specific parameters narrowly defined the route to success. But the legal sector has undergone a metamorphosis over the past decade, which means new entrants to the profession need to make different considerations to their predecessors.

The impact of technology on legal careers

Automation of certain legal services has proliferated over recent years. The rise of legal tech disruptors - such as online legal document providers - has arguably contributed to the closure of many high street firms that have failed to adapt to the changes. This has consequently reduced the number of jobs in some traditional outfits.

Legal tech has also impacted the lives of lawyers themselves, with software tools replacing some of the more routine tasks previously undertaken by juniors. One example is predictive coding, whereby vast numbers of documents can be processed by AI software for purposes of electronic disclosure, which previously would have required a whole team of paralegals or junior solicitors to sift through reams of information.

According to a study by SRA and University of Oxford, which looked at technology adoption amongst law firms:

  • A third of firms introduced new technology in the last 12 months

  • Two-thirds now store data in the cloud

  • 87% use videoconferencing to meet clients

Over the past 18 months the pandemic provided a further catalyst for change - particularly with regards to videoconferencing and software tools to enable remote working. 90% of the respondents to the study said that changes brought about to help them deliver services through the lockdowns would remain.

How should new entrants to the legal profession prepare for this brave new world?

Anyone considering a career in law will need to take into account the changes being brought about by technology and automation. Lawyers of the future will need to be increasingly tech-savvy and more ready to adapt to change, particularly when it comes to optimising processes to increase efficiency. Although there will likely be job losses as more traditional firms struggle to adapt, in theory job satisfaction amongst lawyers should improve when some of the more mundane process-driven tasks are automated. Furthermore, productivity and revenue should increase within the firms which take true advantage of automation. New roles will also emerge to help with the adoption of legal tech - such as legal technologists, innovation managers and L&D officers.

But there will always be a demand for core legal skills, irrespective of automation and technology. Even the Big Four, whose advance into the legal sector relies heavily on optimising processes, admit that good lawyering cannot rely solely on legal tech. Commenting in our Big Four report, Juan Crosby, Partner and NewLaw Leader at PwC explains that: “There’s still a requirement for exceptional legal skills; we have invested very heavily in subject-area expertise and that’s what we as lawyers bring to PwC. But they are enabled by a model that can deliver for clients much more efficiently”. 

What does the future hold in store for law graduates?

It’s unlikely that the law firm model is going to disappear anytime soon. There will always be a need for fresh legal talent. But the traditional career route of a lawyer is already changing. Many law graduates decide to join a Big Four or ALSP initially, before moving onto a firm. Dr Laura Empson, Professor in Management of Professional Service Firms at Cass Business School, argues:

“If you spend a few years in a Big Four firm, learn how firms of this complexity operate, take from it what’s useful, and then move somewhere else and become a big fish in that pond, because you’re someone who’s just come from one of the Big Four, it’s not a bad career move”.

As long as new entrants to the profession ensure they keep an eye on the latest legal tech and are willing to adapt to new business models, their career should be secure, albeit perhaps taking a different trajectory to their predecessors.

Click here to read the full report on the Big Four.

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About the author:
Sarah leads marketing for the Academic and Bar legal communities at LexisNexis. She is passionate about customer-centric marketing and delivering data-based insights to help clients get the best use out of LexisNexis solutions and products, and ensure they succeed in their roles.

Prior to her role at LexisNexis, Sarah specialised in delivering large B2B marketing programmes across a number of industries, including Financial Services, Technology and Manufacturing.