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The technology skills gap is a current hot topic and one which has continued to circulate in legal panels and industry research.
However, is there a real skills gap for law firms around technology? What are the solutions? Do lawyers even need advanced tech skills?
Christopher O’Connor, Head of Segment Marketing at LexisNexis UK, recently presented a keynote and took part in the panel discussion at Legal Cheek’s LegalEdCon North conference in Manchester. The event covered key hot topics around legal education, including the delivery and model of the SQE, the impact of legal tech on the profession, and more pertinent than ever—wellbeing for lawyers.
In this article, we examine how law firms can use the insights gained to help grow their businesses and talent pool strategies.
The legal tech market has boomed, with global investments in legal technology companies reaching almost £1bn last year.
As ever, demanding workloads in the legal profession are pushing lawyers to do more with less. Legal tech and AI are a perceived resolution to this challenge, however, Chris notes that law firms shouldn’t necessarily jump into hiring tech graduates as a solution.
“The ability [for trainees and junior lawyers] to carry out core legal research is vital and initially much more important than learning to code”
In his opinion, lawyers can look to train in varying ways. He suggests that future lawyers don’t necessarily need to have studied Law or a STEM degree in order to flourish in today’s job market.
“Coding isn’t the be all and end all for developing into a lawyers’ role—particularly as the technology itself changes so quickly. Good aptitude at one point in time won’t necessarily lead to success in the real world once the tech has moved on. “
An innate ability to be flexible, adaptable, and certainly a basic appreciation of Excel will all stand junior lawyers in good stead for their future in the industry.
Chris thinks it’s imperative that students look to improve their core legal research skills as a first priority. However, considering that the use of technology in the industry is undoubtedly on the rise, Chris feels that aspiring lawyers “must be open to learning”.
“The role of legal tech for LexisNexis is cutting-edge: we are currently using AI to improve the functionality of our search tools and bring legal context to our users more efficiently. Students should therefore get to grips early on in their careers with such technology”, he advised.
“The profession should aim to hire graduates with good adaptability and a strong skillset in problem-solving.
There is little value in specifying that graduates learn how to use certain legal tech platforms at the start of their careers—even though it may be valuable at the time. The technology will change so quickly, and regardless, the up-and-coming, digital native generations will learn new platforms quickly, as and when they need to.”
Chris suggests that the legal profession could look to the hiring strategies employed by consultancies—what kind of tests do they run on their graduates, and how do they train new starters? The analytical and business profile considered when hiring in both industries are well-matched, so there is potential to learn from one another’s strategy.
“If you work like a robot you will be replaced by one,” says O’Connor on the importance of having a wide and varied skillset. “Trends surrounding automation really came about ten years ago. The focus now is on adapting to the change and upskilling where necessary.”
With this in mind, he advises students look to other industries analogous to the legal sector and observe the trends and phases they’ve gone through. “Think about ‘what’s been automated, what’s not changed and where can I add value?’” he recommends. [Legal Cheek interview]
1. Legal research. “Research forms an important part of legal education, and continues on into legal practice”, O’Connor explains. LexisPSL provides practical guidance and legal knowhow to legal professionals — “it helps shortcut some repetitive tasks and speed-up legal work (with checklists and guidance notes)” — and is used by law firms, in-house legal teams and more, while LexisDraft assists practitioners with contract drafting, relieving their “pain points” by checking for errors, inconsistencies and risks. [Legal Cheek interview]
2. Intellect. “The flexibility to deal with different types of problems, aided by some quantitative analysis skills”, and finally;
3. Communication. “Emotional intelligence and good people skills are paramount for lawyers today and in the future—technology is likely to continue to disrupt the back-end of the lawyer’s role, therefore stakeholder management potential should be a key skill to consider when hiring for your practice or team.”
See our training article: Junior lawyer’s skillset: Effective communication for junior lawyer communication guidance.
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For further insight on skills shortages and legal technology, see our other articles:
The future of work 2025: AI, automation and the legal profession
Legal tech masters—the most coveted skills in legal
Legal tech, lawtech, let’s call the whole thing off
The benefits of closer collaboration within Legal Tech
Legal tech: Slow contracts in a fast world
Legal apprenticeships—Are they the key to fresh talent?
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Amy is an established writer and researcher, having contributed to publications, such as The Law Society, LPM, City A.M. and Financial IT. Her role at LexisNexis UK involved leading content and thought leadership, as well as writing research reports, including "The Bellwether Report 2020, Covid-19: The next chapter" and "Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?"
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