Briefing: Empowering and liberating talent through technology

Today's technology offers firms a game-changing opportunity to seek out and engage expertise beyond traditional talent pools, says Simon Farthing, commercial director at LexisNexis Enterprise Solutions

A young prospective lawyer recently asked me what legal services would look like in 10 years, and what that would mean for her future career. She had heard lots about generative AI and large language models, saw how important technology was becoming to law firms' thinking, and wondered what skills she would need that perhaps I didn't when I first went into practice.

It's an interesting time to be entering the profession. There is still a phenomenal fight for talent. We have all seen the impressive salaries the largest firms are offering the newly qualified, as well as practices struggling to both get the talent they want and encourage career paths towards partnership. Tomorrow's lawyer, as Richard Susskind identified, will be a very different beast indeed — but in essence will retain many of the key skills and talents that have underpinned generations of the profession.

Changing structure, new models

The structure of the workforce in legal is changing. For people coming into the profession, the right financial reward is but one of many considerations that will dictate their path. Not everyone wants to make partner anymore — work-life balance, time spent travelling and mid-career industry changes are now commonplace considerations — it's no longer a linear path. It is even likely that new entrants may see the traditional partnership and lockstep models as outdated or redundant.

The makeup of legal service providers is altering too, with all manner of alternative business structures today. We've recently seen a private equity firm bid to purchase a UK-listed global law firm, global accounting firms establishing themselves as legal service providers, and the rise of law firms marketing their businesses based on a differentiation of type of service — such as the dispersed law firm using tech to capitalise on the 'law firm-as-a-platform' structural concept, or the boutique law firm leveraging tech within their specialism to nurture strong client relationships and thus compete with larger, more established firms.

Law demystified

Consequently, the mystique surrounding legal services has broken down. For a long time, lawyering was viewed as something of a dark art where people talked to lawyers about their problems and mystically the lawyer suggested a legal plan of action, at a cost of many hours and pounds.

Technology has demystified law, logically breaking it down into clearly distinguishable processes. This is also why we have a need for both legal and non-legal expertise and skills to support legal services. AI's continued development will further perpetuate specialisms in legal expertise and the business of law, with tech able to do much more than the heavy lifting seen through automation, including helping to influence better outcomes.

Beyond the traditional talent pool

Technology offers tremendous capability to assist with recruitment and talent management. Firms have a 'never before' opportunity to expand their search for expertise beyond traditional talent pools to close the knowledge and skills gap they face across functions and practice areas. We've seen this already, but in a limited capacity. Only until a few years ago, for example, secretaries in law firms were primarily focused on taking dictation, creating the outputs and then sharing with relevant team members. Now, technology does all this quickly and efficiently, freeing up secretaries to take a more active role in firm-wide administration, with some even using it as steppingstone to pursue a career in law.

Technology offers us a game-changing opportunity to meaningfully employ people from diverse backgrounds, including those with atypical and non-conforming capabilities — a virtually untapped talent pool who thus far have struggled to find work despite being brilliant, highly functioning people. Scanners, optical character recognition, microchips, and synthetic speech have all enabled people with visual and hearing impairments to access materials and training for successful employment in a range of sectors and functions.

The same goes for neurodiverse people. Many who are on the spectrum are often very proficient in specific, highly technical and creative areas. With technology that can help eliminate ingrained, unconscious bias and support them in areas such as cultural integration, communication and access to information, organisations in legal now have the chance to provide such individuals with real opportunities to deploy their talent and to benefit from their capabilities.

Empowerment and liberation

Technology offers a win-win for employers and employees alike. In a fast-changing world of new professional standards, there is a need for different types of talent and specialisms, as well as generational influences — fresh thought processes, novel ways of working and innovative approaches to business are essential.

We in the legal sector need to rethink and even break the typical archetypal boundaries of what constitutes talent — and how it can be nurtured — against the backdrop of ground breaking technology we have at our disposal. New tech is highly flexible, fluid and customisable. Rather than 'imposing' tech on ourselves in restrictive ways, perhaps it's time for us to 'set our own expectations' of the tech we deploy, and ask: "What do I want this tech to do for me?" Rather than a means of pigeon-holing us into rigid structures and processes, as it sometimes does, the overriding objective of technology adoption surely needs to be empowerment and liberation.

This industry analysis is featured in the September issue of Briefing.

Briefing: Empowering and liberating talent through technology preview