How can law schools prepare their students for the changing demands and expectations of a 21st century career?
This is the question raised in this guest post by Chris Marshall, Director of Knowledge Economy at the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law, Swansea University.
New skills required of law graduates
It is increasingly clear that a traditional law degree may not in the future be sufficient to equip graduates with the skills necessary to meet the changing nature of legal practice.
No-one can predict exactly how today’s law graduates will be practicing law in 5, 10 or 15 years’ time. Having said that, the influences affecting legal practice are known and we should be able to discern the skill-sets and capabilities today’s graduates need to thrive in the legal service industry of the future.
Competence in applying project management principles to legal matters and the business of law is one set of skills I believe will be needed and valued.
Disruption in legal services: a recap
Spend any time in the company of the Law Gazette, Richard Susskind, the Artificial Lawyer or even with mainstream media such as The Guardian and it becomes clear that the fourth industrial revolution – the impact of digital technologies on the economy – is taking hold in the legal profession.
Legal service delivery is being disrupted by artificial intelligence, natural language processing and machine learning, not to mention the as yet unknown impacts of distributed ledger technologies such as Blockchain.
The result should be faster, more efficient and more cost-effective services for clients.
Challenges for law firms
The changing way in which clients obtain legal advice, and how much they pay for that advice, requires law firms to rethink their business models and processes.
It also requires them to consider what skills they expect from their employees. For example, traditional paralegal and junior lawyer roles look set to be consigned to history, replaced by a broader family of knowledge workers such as legal engineers, legal process analysts and legal project managers.
It is not fanciful to imagine law firms employing teams of software programmers or Big Data analysts who also have a qualifying law degree, or equivalent, and I believe that legal project management will also be an increasingly sought-after skill.
Challenges for academia
Of course, this is not just a challenge for the profession and it is not just the law firms who have to adapt.
In the same way that practices are starting to embrace new technologies and new ways of working, so the law schools must consider what they can do to prepare their students for the changing demands and expectations of a 21st century legal career.
In many respects, law schools need to understand how they can train students for types of job that might not yet exist while at the same time reassuring them of the continuing value of a law degree.
After all, universities must respond to the market they operate in and their law schools should be anticipating the changes that will inform the capabilities which future lawyers will need to evidence.
To be competitive in the student recruitment market universities must demonstrate the programmes they offer are relevant and will enhance the employability of their students in the increasingly competitive employment market.
To achieve this, universities must ensure that they can add value to the traditional law degree so that students graduate not just with the required legal knowledge. I believe law students must also graduate with proven ability to:
- seek innovative solutions to problems;
- work effectively in multidisciplinary teams;
- be entrepreneurial in their approach;
- be flexible and agile, and, most importantly,
- be “work ready” even, perhaps, before they have secured a training contract.
Legal Project Management Training at Swansea University
We at Swansea University’s Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law are pleased to be working with Antony at Legal Project Management Ltd to introduce a short legal project management course for some of our Legal Practice Course (LPC) students this year.
This will lead students to becoming certified by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) as Legal Project Associates (LPAs).
Being able to offer this course is one example of how we are complementing the legal knowledge students gain with practical experiences and capabilities which are attractive to employers.
The legal project management course will enhance students’ technical abilities in areas such as resource management, risk management and project planning, as well as expanding their negotiation and presentation skills.
Antony’s course is designed to improve competence in legal project management by the application of project skills during facilitated workshops and exercises. So even though the training course is relatively short (3 days) our students will acquire from it skills which can be applied directly at their future places of work.
I have no doubt that the students who complete this programme will find their CVs noticeably enhanced. Although we are piloting the course this year our ambition is that we can roll it out more widely in years to come.
Developing a balanced skill-set
However, that is not to say that every graduate must be an expert in legal project management, in the same way that not every law student will need to be an expert in software development or coding.
Instead, I think we will start to see law firms broadening the types of trainee they recruit to ensure a balance of skills and capabilities across their practices. So our role is to ensure that students have the opportunities to gain the skills they themselves want to acquire. After all, not every law student will become a Joshua Browder.
At the same time, I am not sure that the legal profession itself has quite decided what skills it is going to need from its employees in the years to come. It will take a little time for any sense of clarity to emerge but I would hope that this can be achieved with the profession and law schools working together.
Universities cannot work in isolation. We cannot deliver law degrees that second-guess the needs of the sector. We need practices to work with us to help shape the curriculum and to pinpoint the development needs of different legal roles – including the next generation of legal project managers.