Legal Skills Essential for the New Normal
By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD
Pandemic life has forced us all to pick up new skills in a hurry. In 2020, you might have learned how to fix your own computer, assist with homeschool classes or bake the perfect sourdough bread.
On the surface, none of this would seem related to the legal profession. And yet, by negotiating your way through all the disruptions of the past year, you’ve been honing one of the most essential work skills of the 2020s: adaptability. This is an invaluable skill if you are thinking of a job change in the near future.
Of course, law firms and corporate legal departments still want candidates with exceptional legal knowledge and functional skills called for in the practice of law. But increasingly, they also want legal professionals who are versatile, comfortable with change and adept at communication. Here are some of the skills you should be focusing on as the new normal unfolds. Note that all of them require adaptability.
● Virtual communication
Zoom, Teams and Slack are here to stay, with 42% of employers now advertising fully remote positions. Many employees will find themselves working in hybrid team settings in the coming years, with a mix of on-site and at-home colleagues. And videoconferencing will continue to be an essential part of work and communications.
Try to learn as much as you can about the leading collaboration platforms but remember that human interaction isn't just about technology. It takes soft skills like active listening and teamwork to stay connected to people when you can't meet face-to-face. Employers value people who know how to get their message across on a variety of channels.
● Data analytics
eDiscovery now involves such immense volumes of data that candidates for these roles must possess in-depth experience using legal data analytics tools. Any history of working with general Business Intelligence (BI) software will also strengthen your resume, as this indicates transferrable skills like data wrangling and visualization.
The pandemic created new opportunities for hackers, with 77% of businesses reporting an increase in cybercrime during 2020. Much of this is due to the sudden shift to remote working earlier in the year. Employers need people who understand the fundamentals of cybersecurity and can help protect sensitive client information. While you don’t need to be a security expert, you do need to show a good understanding of the leading cyber threats. If you have completed any cybersecurity training, be sure to mention this on your resume.
● Artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence (AI) is being utilized in many law practices, with services like LexisNexis and Westlaw offering AI tools that can analyze everything from case precedents to judicial decisions. This kind of technology helps legal professionals glean insights that might otherwise remain hidden.
If this sounds like there is a slippery slope towards a robot taking your job, don’t worry. You're more likely to find yourself in a symbiotic relationship with AI, which simply means that you focus on strategic work while your digital partner does the data crunching. Any experience with an AI platform such as Lexis+ will show you’re ready for this future.
● Empathy and people skills
Paradoxically, the more technology transforms the legal profession, the more important people skills become. As tools like AI take over the hard analytical work, soft skills like diplomacy, tact and empathy will be more valuable than ever in building and nurturing relationships with colleagues and clients.
It's hard to demonstrate these skills on a resume, but you can show them during a job interview in the way you describe how you have collaborated and communicated with others in past positions. In the meantime, don't be afraid to ask your current colleagues if they feel you're understanding and a good listener. If they suggest areas where you could improve, listen and then act upon that feedback.
As the sudden onset of the pandemic has demonstrated, things can change quickly and in unexpected ways. To succeed, consider adaptability your best friend.