What Makes Lawyers Tick?®

The Well-Rounded Lawyer

Posted in Change Management, Millennials, People Skills, Selection, Talent

This blog post was originally published at the Legal Executive Institute website, a ThomsonReuters site, on December 19, 2016  (http://tinyurl.com/futurelawyer):

We in the legal profession — especially those of us in Big Law — have always been very clear about our criteria for what kind of lawyer we’d like to hire. Indeed, there’s nearly universal agreement that we want someone who’s smart; and then we look for the indicia of a strong analytical ability, a bristling intelligence, a powerful intellect — all demonstrated by top grades, high LSAT scores, membership in a Law Review, Order of the Coif, graduate of a top law school, etc.

And there’s good reason to celebrate and chase after this cognitive smorgasbørd. These characteristics are at the heart of what makes lawyers successful as well as what gives most lawyers high levels of job satisfaction. So, I don’t think we’ll be abandoning this central criterion any time soon, nor should we.

However — and this is a big “however” — today’s climate of unprecedented change, increased competition, rapidly shortening time frames, globalization and heightened unpredictability all demand that we hire and develop lawyers with some additional skillsets.

For example, as law has become more complex, as knowledge has veritably exploded, and as transactions have grown more multinational and complex, in many practice areas it’s become harder for any one lawyer to possess the complete expertise needed to handle a client’s matter. To ably represent a client today, more often it takes a team of lawyers, each of whom brings a salient depth of expertise to the table. This, in turn, places a much greater premium on collaboration as a skill. And the truth is, some people are naturally better at collaborating than others.

This is a problem — at the very least, it’s a numbers problem. Law school enrollments have been on the decline for years, and fewer applicants reduce the richness of the talent pool. And yet, if we want lawyers who are smart and collaborative, we need a larger talent pool. There are far fewer lawyers who are “smart and collaborative” than there are lawyers who are just “smart”. Do the math.

This challenge increases exponentially when you consider all the other skills that the “lawyer of the future” will need. I recently spoke at the Law Firm Leaders Forum, sponsored by Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute, which attracts managing partners from many of the AmLaw 100 firms. After my presentation, I asked several of these firm leaders about their take on the lawyer of the future. Here is a list, in no particular order, of some of the qualities they believe will be required of the lawyer of the future:

  • technology skills
  • leadership skills
  • entrepreneurial skills
  • business acumen
  • presence or gravitas
  • collaboration skills
  • emotional intelligence and empathy
  • resilience skills
  • agility or adaptability
  • multiculturalism or bilingualism, and a global mindset
  • ability to synthesize
  • joint degree of one sort or another

This is almost certainly an incomplete list. But it should make us all fairly nervous, considering that most law schools are not systematically screening entrants for most of these skills.

My hope is that (i) law firms will become more conscientious about identifying the specific skillsets that their lawyers of the future will need in their own specific firms; and (ii) they will request that law schools do the same, then give those schools that do support and encouragement, so firms can increase the prevalence of these multi-skilled individuals in their talent pool.

In the meantime, here are some things you can do to broaden your own talent pool:

  • Read Daniel Pink’s excellent 2006 book A Whole New Mind.
  • Develop a competency model that identifies the specific skillsets that lead to excellence in your particular firm — and will lead to excellence in the future.
  • Ask yourself the question: Do our current hiring criteria scientifically predict success and excellence? In other words, challenge yourself to see if the criteria you use for hiring new lawyers actually results in the kind of future performance you are looking for. If not, then consider using a more scientific hiring process. This will certainly include reliance on a competency model as noted above, and may also lead you to consider the use of either pre-employment testing and/or the use of “structured interviewing” (a more rigorous, uniform and scientific approach to conducting selection interviews).
  • Consider training your lawyers in some of these criteria of the future. Some of these characteristics lend themselves to a training or development approach (g., resilience, leadership, technology), and some really depend on hiring the right person (e.g., ability to synthesize, presence or gravitas, etc.) You have to make the “build-or-buy” decision.

The next decade will bring more changes in the legal profession, as well as in other industries, than the past three decades. The excellent practice of law has always depended on people as its primary resource — it’s our “stock in trade”, as they say. This will become even more prevalent in the years to come, and we need to think more strategically about how to get the right people on the bus.

To see my other blog posts at the Legal Executive Institute site, click here.

As usual, if you have comments or questions, please post a reply.

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