The Future of Law De-Mystified
Earlier this month, F-LEX held a thought-provoking panel discussion in Manchester, chaired by our Head of Northern Hub, Eimear McCann. 50 of us, a range of legal enthusiasts and techies, gathered to demystify the future of the law. The evening proved to be a real crowd pleaser, provoking some interesting questions from the audience and some healthy debate.
We kicked off the event with introductions to our great panel: Paul Taylor, Head of Operations Legal Services at Manchester United, brought an in-house perspective to the table; Alan East, Chair of Education and Training Committee at the Law Society, provided an education angle with his close involvement in the development of the SQE; last, but by no means least, Claire Stripp, Head of Talent and Knowledge at the law firm Browne Jacobson, who offered a law firm’s outlook and her views as a self-proclaimed “tech geek”.
Now to pick out the best received questions that provoked some healthy debate.
Eimear: Is our current education system fit for purpose? Some universities are already offering modules on legal design, techno-ethics, smart contracts and blockchain; whilst others run incubators on campus, encouraging students to look at ways of using tech in a legal context. Are students at other institutions likely to be disadvantaged?
Alan: The University of Manchester is particularly focused on the importance of technology and in offering its students opportunities to advance their tech skills. It would appear that the University of Manchester is establishing itself as a pioneer in technology and law.
Question from the audience (Caroline McCarron, JMW LLP): How will legal tech benefit small high street or boutique firms, bearing in mind the expense of bringing in legal tech software. Are these firms able to compete?
Eimear: Should the future of legal education be looking to interdisciplinary degrees, for example, computer science and law? Additionally, should lawyers learn to code?
Paul: Coding may prove to be an important skill to possess in the future of the profession, yet, not everyone in a team needs to have this ability, it is about balance: teams need people with a range of skills and strengths.
Claire: The one skill that I wish my trainees would possess, is an ability to effectively use Excel, there is a real lack of this in the profession.
Eimear: How important are soft skills? Do you think they can they be taught?
Claire: I see so many candidates who are missing the required soft skills for a legal career, they can be amazing on paper but lack the important ability to communicate. As a result, we even have to include using the telephone in some training classes!
Paul: In a team environment, it is important to have people that bring a variety of different skills to the table. An important aspect of the lawyer’s job is face to face involvement with clients and this something that clients do place value upon. Technology cannot replace this.
Question from the audience (Sam Clark, F-LEX Associate): What are we doing to develop soft skills for those from backgrounds where family members are not university educated, or don’t have legal contacts already? There is a perception in the legal world that some hardworking students are not “polished enough” for firms; what are we doing to combat this perception and help those without the contacts?
Paul: Mentoring students from less privileged backgrounds is an important way to combat these social obstacles. We have a mentoring scheme in place, where we meet with students of these backgrounds, making suggestions on our approach to job application questions.
Claire: Firms are working on this and it is recognised that more diverse backgrounds are needed in the profession.
Eimear: How does the SQE slot into this shifting focus?
Alan: It is inevitably going to be down to the law firms to steer the focus of the questions and the advancement of the qualification. None of the current multiple choice questions have any relation to technology in the law, so, I suppose, here, they have “missed the mark”.
F-LEX’s De-mystifying the Future of Law panel discussion proved to be a hugely insightful evening, greatly received by all involved. One of our guests, R Sandika Mendis de Zoysa, commented that, “The event allowed students to see the employers’ perspective on legal tech and the perceived skills gap in students. The most illuminating aspect was a discussion on students lacking the ability to use existing tech well, such as MS excel.”
We look forward to welcoming you all again in the near future for further thought-provoking events!
What are your thoughts on the questions above and the responses from our guests? Do you have any questions that are needed? Get in touch with us via social media and let’s keep the discussion going!