Two major UK-based law firms, Allen & Overy (A&O) and Addleshaw Goddard (AG), have both announced new career paths to help them to adapt to legal tech’s impact.
Both initiatives are a clear indication of the growing importance of legal technology, in terms of showing the need for law firms to have the right skillsets internally and that legal tech capabilities have moved far beyond ‘operational’ needs of just ‘keeping the lights on’ and have now moved front and centre in terms of strategic growth planning for law firms.
Machine learning/NLP tools are clearly part of this movement given that they can help in the direct production of legal work, such as via review, but legal tech’s impact also includes a whole new wave of technology that connects to risk and compliance analysis, litigation prediction, contracting automation tools, smart contract and blockchain technology, and a range of incremental changes to more well-developed tech such as DMSs and collaboration platforms.
In short, there is now so much new legal technology having an impact on how lawyers operate on a day to day basis and most importantly how they actually produce work that the more forward thinking firms are adapting their recruitment and career paths to meet these needs.
This is all the more important when one considers that the clients are becoming increasingly savvy to the benefits of this ‘new means of production’, leaving law firms that want to retain market position little option other than to adapt, while this market change is also offering early adopters the chance to compete more effectively against rivals in the legal market.
In this respect, AG has announced that from September it will bring in a new career path that will enable its lawyers to qualify within the firm’s Innovation and Legal Technology Team.
Alongside this, the firm is establishing a programme of rolling secondments for lawyers from each of its divisions to work and train within the Innovation and Legal Technology Team for a period of six months.
This secondment ‘offers internal lawyers first-hand experience developing new technology platforms and solutions as well as skills like coding, data capture and analytics, complementing their traditional legal expertise’, AG said in a statement.
Meanwhile, A&O is establishing a two-year Advanced Delivery graduate programme. The firm said it is seeking graduates with STEM or Economics degrees to be part of a team ‘using the latest tools and software to bring legal expertise to the world in new and surprising ways’.
The firm explained that the new career path will have a programme that mirrors the structure of a training contract.
Beginning in September, four successful candidates will undertake four, six-month rotations in the Project Management Office and Legal Tech team of A&O. The graduates will be based in Fuse, its innovation incubator which has hosted several legal tech companies and is now embarking on its second round of hosting startups.
The A&O candidates will then be supported and funded in gaining a recognised qualification in project and/or process management and understanding its application through the provision of legal services.
Louise Forrest, Head of Legal Project Management and PeerPoint Consultant at A&O, said: ‘We’ve launched this scheme now so that we can shape junior project managers and legal technologists into the professionals that A&O and our clients will need in order to manage the great risks and even greater opportunities that technology presents.’
Kevin Oliver, Head of Advanced Delivery Technology, A&O, added: ‘Technology is only going to increase in importance and we expect that this group of people will play a crucial role in shaping the legal landscape of the future.’
Meanwhile, Kerry Westland, Head of Innovation and Legal Technology at AG, said of the initiatives there: ‘With three trainees currently in the team, we have seen directly the benefits these roles bring. Their training contract gives them the unique ability to see how technology can help address internal or client challenges. Offering a seat within the team, also ensures that our future lawyers will become equipped with additional skills that the lawyer of the future requires.’
‘As I completed my training contract in a similar way, the first to complete one in the TST, I know first-hand how important it is to combine new models of working with traditional legal expertise,’ she added.
Axel Koelsch, COO at AG, concluded: ‘As a firm we are dedicated to the development of our staff and coming up with new and innovative ways of doing this. Investing in our lawyers, creating new outside of the box roles and career paths and not being afraid to try something different is our mantra and something which we believe is vital in order to deliver the best service to our clients.’
[ Note: in England & Wales, young lawyers usually have a career path that includes two years as a ‘trainee’, often via a ‘training contract’ with a law firm, after which they then qualify formally as a solicitor. ]