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What the legal shake-up means for you

What the legal shake-up means for you

By Katie Miller

Young practitioners need to know how to prepare for the new legal services market. Traditionally, learning to be a lawyer involved adopting the fixed and relatively unchanged ways of practising law and delivering legal services. The early career lawyer was treated as an empty vessel or a blank slate, to be filled with the wisdom and knowledge of experienced, long-standing members of the profession. But things are changing. Every lawyer strives to act in their clients’ best interests – but increasingly, clients are not loving a lot of things about the way legal services are provided – the cost, the (in)convenience, the information imbalances. Clients are increasingly opting out – turning to the internet, government, friends or accountants to solve their legal problems. In order to survive, lawyers must adapt to these changes – and many are. Over nine weeks in 2015, I met with 40 innovators in nine cities in Australia and the United States to find out how they were adapting to the changes in the legal services market and what lawyers could do about those changes. I wrote a report on my findings, “Disruption, Innovation and Change: The future of the legal profession”. The report is relevant for all members of the legal profession but particularly for lawyers at the start of their careers. You are not empty vessels; you will be the architects of the new legal world. Here are a few tips for how early career lawyers can prepare themselves for, and shape, the new legal services market. Get informed Learn about the changes happening to the legal services market by reading and listening. Start with Richard Susskind’s books, especially his most recent work The Future of the Professions. It provides a good overview of why the changes are happening and the forms they may take. Follow up with my report, which will provide you with a framework for taking practical steps to change and adapt. Attend seminars about the changing legal services market. The LIV is hosting discussion groups, seminars and conferences about NewLaw. Many universities, such as RMIT, the University of Melbourne and Victoria University are also part of the conversation. Many of the seminars are recorded, so you can catch them online. Expand your horizons Innovators are using different models of legal practice and law firms now come in as many shapes and sizes as lawyers do. Learn about these other models of legal practice, so you know what is possible and on offer. Learn about roles that use legal skills, both within and outside the legal sector. Use social media to find people who have practised law, but are not practising law right now – such as Brennan Ong, founder of LawAdvisor and former associate in the Supreme Court of Victoria, and Lilian Dikmans, former general counsel at LawAdvisor and now manager at RSF Consulting. Find law grads who are working within the legal sector, but not as lawyers, such as former students of Melbourne University's Law Apps subject, Dominique Simsion and Nathan Schofield, who are now working respectively as solutions architect and product consultant at Neota Logic. Follow their stories, connect with them and learn about how they are using legal skills in non-traditional ways. Research legal start ups. Find out who they are and how they are delivering legal services differently. Follow the lawyers doing things differently, connect with them online, invite them for coffee and learn about their journey. Identify your non-legal skills Clients need more than technical legal skills and so do successful lawyers and legal practices. While you may still be developing your technical legal skills, you have other skills that will be useful to an employer or client. Imagine what a client needs from a legal service and the skills required to fill those needs. Clients have needs and preferences beyond having their legal problem fixed, such as a need to understand the legal solution, a preference to communicate online and a need to be reassured that they are doing the right thing. Identify what skills you have, whether developed in formal education or through life experience. At the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office, Anesti Petridis uses his exceptional visual communication skills to encapsulate complex advices in visual diagrams that communicate information simply and beautifully. Visual communication is just one skill that is not traditionally associated with the written world of the law, but it is a skill that is enhancing the way in which legal information can be delivered. Consider how you could use your skills to meet client needs and preferences. Don’t be afraid to be creative and imagine legal practice as it could be, rather than how it has been for decades. Ensure you can clearly articulate how your skills will be useful to a legal organisation, so you can pitch your skills in a CV or interview. Develop your skills To find new ways to deliver legal services to your clients, you need to develop new skills. Identify and develop one or two skills that complement your technical legal skills and will assist you to deliver the legal services your clients want. You will need technology ability. At the very least, you will need to be a savvy user of technology. At best, you will learn to code, so you can turn your legal skills and knowledge into legal products that can be used by lawyers and non-lawyers. Even some basic knowledge of coding can help in working with technologists and understanding their language and thought processes. You will need an entrepreneurial perspective – it will help you to find and take advantage of your niche in the legal services market. Start small – and you don’t have to start in law. If you’ve ever wanted to develop an app, try doing it. If you are already practising, enhance your ability through practice management and professional skills CPD. Don’t limit yourself to CPD pitched at lawyers or badged as practice management or professional skills – there is more to these areas than trust accounting and advocacy. Review the CPD Rules and, if you’re not sure, call the LIV. Continue to develop your resilience. There will be more change in your legal lifetime than there has been for a number of decades. You will need to change and adapt and sometimes you will fail. One of the most important lessons I learned on my innovation tour is that failure is normal, if not essential, for successful innovation. Keep an open mind The legal world is changing, which means the traditional, secure paths to success are being disrupted. You have the opportunity to create your own success, but it may mean taking a risk on something new – a non-traditional role in the legal sector, a role outside the legal sector that uses legal skills, a legal start up. It will be harder than the traditional, secure path to success because you are making your own path. It might be scarier, but following your own path will have rewards and benefits – for you and your clients. Resources: You can find Richard Susskind's The Future of Professions and his other work in the LIV Bookshop. Katie Miller is executive director, legal practice at Victoria Legal Aid.

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