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The T-shaped lawyer: successful skills and abilities of current and future lawyers

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Technology has had a fundamental effect on most professions. It has standardized and simplified processes, removed labour intensive elements, and increased efficiency of how products and services are developed and sold. Most importantly, it has made it necessary for those in the profession to adapt and change who does the work, what the work is, and how the work is done.

Law and the practice of law has, in many ways, remained relatively untouched. That is until now!

Yes, computers and email have transformed how lawyers communicate and do their work, but today lawyers are facing fundamental challenges with regard to their monopoly from alternate service providers, offshoring and, yes, technology. New tools are being developed and are emerging at tremendous speeds, forcing lawyers to adapt or sadly, become replaced.

Some elements that used to be in the domain of lawyers, such as e-discovery and even basic legal research, are increasingly becoming remnants of a past era. The work that used to occupy the days and evenings of junior lawyers and articling students has mostly disappeared.

Lawyers 2.0
To have a successful career in the legal field, new lawyers need to develop new skills, abilities and mindsets. These are the fundamental elements of today’s 2.0 lawyers; the “T-shaped” , “positive-value” or “+” shaped lawyers.

“T Shaped” lawyers continue to possess a thorough understanding of the law and all that traditionally goes with being a lawyer, but they also need to possess other skills and abilities. These skills and abilities include a facility to use and apply technology, to implement, apply and use fundamental elements of project management (finance, HR, etc.) as well as possess interpersonal skills that will add value to these newly provided services.

The threat to “traditional lawyers”
Many long-standing lawyers with a strong book of business feel that they are protected and isolated from having to change their practice. Until now, these “traditional lawyers” sold their services in a steady environment; where their services were provided within a monopoly market, with little competition, while charging an hourly rate that encouraged inefficiencies.

Many “traditional lawyers” proudly state to anyone that asked, and even those who did not, that they went into law because they were terrible in math. Finally, some “traditional lawyers” still refuse to type out their own letters, preferring instead to dictate letters which would then be typed by assistants that required further review and modifications, before receiving the seal of approval. This practice was again possible with little-to-no competition for their services and within a system that encouraged and compensated inefficiency.

Today, those who are using the services of a lawyer are demanding more. Clients are demanding lawyers who are able to use technology to provide efficient and cost-effective services. They are demanding lawyers that understand business and the business environment within which the clients operate. Clients are demanding lawyers with strong interpersonal skills, who are able to work within diverse teams and able to project manage their own files.

Unless they are able to change to meet the needs of their new market, “traditional lawyers” will soon become fish out of water; quickly losing influence, clients and their book of business. Traditional lawyers and law firms will neglect these changes and the need to adapt at their own peril.

Essential skills for lawyers
It is difficult to identify one skill that is essential for all lawyers. As noted, there are many elements and skills that new lawyers must possess in order to be successful. As lawyers, we cannot ignore the need for technological, financial, project management and interpersonal skills.

That being said, if there is one common element in all of these skills it is the ability to understand and adapt to constant change. One just needs to look at Moore’s law, which theorizes that “computer processing speed doubles every 18 months”, to understand the pace at which change is happening. This is just one example of how and why adaptability is, and will remain, an essential skill for lawyers and most, if not all, professionals.

Lawyers in the future
A successful lawyer in 2025 will be one who has been able to stay ahead of technological developments and seeks to continuously improve the services they provide clients. A successful lawyer, both now and in the future, will have a broad level of knowledge and understanding of other practices and tools required to meet the changing needs of their clients at both the current time and in the years thereafter.

Fernando Garcia will be featured in the upcoming webinar The 21st Century T-Shaped Lawyer: What is it? Why is it Relevant to Success?, part of the Practice Management Webinar Series III: The 21st Century Lawyer – Practicing in a Time of Change, starting November 17, 2017.


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FERNANDO GARCIA is general counsel for Nissan Canada, Inc. His duties include providing strategic and legal advice on Canada-wide dealer operations, labour relations and employment law, government affairs and all general legal matters. Mr. Garcia holds an MIR from the University of Toronto and LLB/BCL from McGill and recently completed an MBA at Wilfrid Laurier University.

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