Meet the lawyers of the future

AI and the legal profession:
Group of work colleagues having a discussion at a desk.

In the last article we looked at how technology was changing the practice of law. In this piece we delve further into the topic to understand what skills specifically will be important for future lawyers and why. Understanding how these skills are viewed in the wider technological change impacting the profession are key for young lawyers to future proof their careers, even before they enter the workforce.

But what are these important skills that lawyers should have? What are the likely skillsets that make an employment-ready lawyer?

There are few challenges to the core skillset for lawyers. These capabilities, skills, values and knowledge need to be client focussed, open and adaptable. Lawyers need to be effective and empathetic communicators, drafters, negotiators and advocates. Drafting legal documents and letters have become more of a checking of the technology rather than manually drafting from scratch. There is becoming more written advocacy and AI might even assist in that new direction but there are other skills that are more ‘human centred’. Judgement and interpretation also still tend to be better done by humans.

Some commentators suggest that ethics for lawyers is therefore more important than ever. Being ethical, of good character, socially responsible, acting fairly with honesty and integrity, while taking responsibility for one’s own actions, equitably holding the injustice of others to account. These are important qualities for the arbiters of justice, important for equitable community outcomes. Can an AI bot be programmed to ethical? Let’s not try to answer just yet.

There are lessons many of us have learntabout technology. Lawyers must be strategic, adaptable, and innovative with technology​, creative in seeking effective solutions for clients.

The ‘most human’ skillsets are those often referred to as interpersonal and teamwork: effective interpersonal skills including emotional and social intelligence​, adaptable, reflective and being an open-minded team player. These are the general employability skills of the present and the future for most professions and industry. Lawyers are no exception.

Not only is there increasing internationalision of Australian Law (The Increasing Internationalisation of Australian Law) but writers like Susskind point to interactions between people from other professions and a blurring between professional roles.

Many legal employers are keen for their staff to understand service and business. Not just the ability to value add (“would you like some succession planning with your Will”?) but a broader sense of service: a lawyer who upholds service to the administration of justice, and clients as commitment, virtue and value, adaptable, entrepreneurial, and creative.

Since rolling covid lockdowns, a new world is here that understands the importance of wellbeing and resilience for humans. Many legal employers are now realising that the best employer is a resilient legal professional who effectively self-manages one’s own wellbeing and promotes and encourages improved approaches to wellbeing in the workplace.


Navigation of the law and legal practice

These are the skillsets of now and the future. The idea that a lawyer is primarily someone who ‘knows the law’ is not a completely outdated idea just yet. Many lawyers know that it’s more about navigation of the law and its procedural patterns. Explaining the law to clients, helping them understand their obligations and responsibilities, helping them at difficult times, guiding them through the law, being objective and assertive advocates for clients and trusted advisors to them. This is the human face of the law that commentators are telling us is more important for legal practice than ever.

While AI and other technological developments will help us process more promptly and effectively and some areas of service delivery and expertise will be replaced, it is clear that the lawyer of now and the future is one with human skills, a convergent and divergent creative thinker with a well-developed ethical skillset who has empathy and can communicate well in a range of different scenarios. The more lawyers we have like this, the better it might be for the protection of society and for the administration of justice.


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