Tapping into the trends changing legal work right now - part two

Tapping into the trends changing legal work right now - part two

At the end of January, Obelisk Support were delighted to work with our friends at LexisNexis to bring together Mark Smith, Director of Strategic Markets at LexisNexis, Rashda Rana, Senior Counsel and Obelisk consultant, Rustum Rau, Legal Director, Americas & UK at BT Global and Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support, to discuss the impact of the pandemic on legal work and what this means for legal careers. In part one of our coverage of the event, we looked at the impact of the trend for remote working and growth of technology on legal work, now we ask what this means for lawyers’ individual skills and development.


“The key skills for the post-pandemic lawyer”

While it goes without saying that you need to know your subject and black letter law is still vitally important, what are the new skills lawyers need to build?

“What is changing is how you behave and how you build your resilience to cope with all the challenges coming your way”, says Dana Denis-Smith. “You have to be able to see change as a learning opportunity, as linear career paths are not going to exist in the same way they did for my generation.” It’s a theme Rashda Rana echoes, “You can’t stay stuck in your golden years, you have to move on! That means being prepared to explore new ways of doing things and adapting and leading in the new ways of working.”

In a world increasingly shaped by technology, we need to focus on our uniquely human skills. “The key skill for a lawyer, now more than ever when we are speaking to the screen, is listening.” Rasda tells us. “Really listening actively. Pick out the things you didn’t know, the nuances in people’s voices, the things you need to do to make a difference.” Similarly, our individual sense of values and purpose will become more important, both as a source of our own motivation and as a way of setting the goals of corporations.

“Look outside your swim lane”

“You have got to be open to tech, understand data at least just a little bit and be more curious.”, Rustum Rau of BT says, “Lawyers in-house need to understand areas such as brand management, crisis management, how to read a P&L and a balance sheet, resourcing and operations”. Truly understanding your business or your client’s business will make you a much more effective lawyer, a better negotiator and advisor. Investing time in building this commercial awareness is essential, whichever stage of your career you are at.

Whether you manage people or not, developing your leadership and influencing skills is also essential to succeed in this new world. Look for opportunities to take on big projects and learn from colleagues, rather than feeling these roles “aren’t for lawyers”. Maintain a clear vision of where you want to go and consciously think about how you can motivate the people around you to join in. In a working world that is becoming more complex and less hierarchical, being able to influence others becomes more important.

“Turn the volume up on checking-in”

Each of us faces different challenges with the realities of remote-working in the pandemic. For some, there’s balancing the necessary distractions of home-schooling alongside work. For others, there’s the lack of physical space and resources at home. Rashda reminds us “For those brand-new into the profession, they are having a first year either as a solicitor or barrister that is like nothing they expected”. Those starting out are particularly lacking the informal support of senior colleagues in, for example, providing second opinions or in-the-moment coaching.

Similarly, those starting a role with a new organisation are having to work harder to learn the business and to build their network. BT has welcomed seven new lawyers to the team during the pandemic and Rustum reminds us, “You have to carve time out to support new people and make a much more focused effort to communicate with them. It takes real effort, it can’t just be taken for granted.” In the world of dispersed work, this requires extra effort from leaders in particular but also from all of us. Reaching out and making connections remotely is another critical skill to hone and develop.

In a world where the only certainty is that volatility will prevail, your individual development is one area where you can exert some control. The successful lawyers of the future will be those who stay curious, keep learning and stay close to those they are advising. 


Read part one - How the pandemic is changing legal work today





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About the author:

Laura is a Talent Director. Before joining Obelisk Support in 2019, Laura led marketing teams in a range of technology and information businesses, most recently at LexisNexis and Pearson. She leads Obelisk’s attraction, development and engagement programmes, making sure everyone in the Obelisk legal professional community is set up to succeed.