Accessibility Links

3 new skills in-house legal lawyers will need to succeed

23 / 02 / 2017
3 new skills in-house legal lawyers will need to...The in-house legal landscape is set for significant upheaval over the coming years, with technological developments, regulatory updates and evolving client demands placing new pressures on departments. 

A recent Deloitte report claimed 2020 would be the tipping point for change, with many organisations having to readjust their talent strategies to cater to challenges on the horizon. 

As an in-house lawyer, you will be expected to move with the times while these seismic shifts are underway. But what new skills will employers be expecting from you over the coming years? 

While desirable skills will vary depending on the role and its seniority, there are a number of broad areas where all in-house lawyers may need to develop their capabilities to remain competitive in the job market. 

1. Technology prowess

Legal has traditionally been one of the slower sectors to take advantage of rapid advances in technology. However, a growing number of firms are exploring systems that can help them cut costs, boost efficiency and free up valuable resources. 

Data mining and analytics tools are being used to trawl through unstructured databases to identify specific pieces of information or wider trends. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will become more prevalent in this space. 

Meanwhile, automated systems such as electronic discovery platforms and contract generators are enabling businesses to reduce the amount of time spent on time-consuming manual tasks. 

In-house legal hiring managers will therefore be increasingly looking for candidates who are tech-savvy and comfortable in systems-driven environments. A recent Eversheds and Winmark study showed one-third of employers are already concerned about a lack of IT skills in their legal departments. 

"In-house teams need to free up the highly trained individuals within their teams to focus on work of strategic value and, increasingly, to focus on providing business advice," said Lee Ranson, managing partner at Eversheds.

2. External legal services management 

The Legal Services Act 2007 brought a raft of changes to the way the industry was regulated, enabling new players to enter the market and begin competing against established firms. 

More organisations with alternative business models are now gaining momentum, bringing innovative services and forcing traditional firms to re-assess their value propositions. 

This increased competition could spell good news for in-house legal departments that need to outsource workloads, as they will have more choice at potentially lower costs.  

However, more emphasis is likely to fall on in-house spending for external services and departments will need to justify their purchasing decisions. General cost-cutting measures at many firms due to current economic uncertainty could expedite spending transformation programmes. 

Lawyers will need to perform thorough reviews of what tasks should be performed in-house versus what should be outsourced, as well as effectively manage multiple external providers. 

Legal services panel management software and other technologies can help in these areas, but tomorrow's lawyers will still be expected to focus more on procurement and budget. 

3. Interpersonal skills 

Admittedly, interpersonal skills aren't 'new' to the profession, but they will certainly grow in importance as in-house legal departments begin taking on increasingly strategic roles within businesses. 

"Looking ahead five to ten years from now, both general counsels and corporate directors view strategic input as becoming a larger source of added value in the role of general counsel," a 2013 Association of Corporate Counsel report stated. 

In-house lawyers will be spending more time working closely with business-side colleagues, including board members and other senior executives. Soft skills are key to negotiating these relationships and helping to translate legal speak into plain English for risk management and compliance decision-making. 

Emotional intelligence and better engagement will also become more important on the client side, as in-house lawyers must better understand clients' evolving needs and demands. 

Furthermore, the development of soft skills should help in-house legal professionals boost their leadership capabilities, which could prove useful as the shift towards flatter hierarchical structures within departments has limited promotion opportunities. 

Skills for the 21st century 

The legal sector is in the midst of what could potentially be a revolutionary phase, with shifts in technology, regulation and client expectations bringing greater demands on departments. 

In-house lawyers that can brush up on their skills in key areas such as technology, interpersonal skills and legal services management will therefore become more attractive to employers. 

Our latest market report for the legal sector found that 55 per cent of in-house legal teams believe they are insufficiently resourced to tackle the workloads expected of them. 

Opportunities clearly exist for the right applicants, but employer expectations are growing and lawyers will need to show they have a good mix of skills to secure vacancies.

Our 2017 Market Report combines our review of the prevailing conditions in the in-house legal recruitment market together with the results of our latest employer survey.

Image: djedzura via iStockADNFCR-1684-ID-801832771-ADNFCR