In March 2017, I had the pleasure of attending the Disruption in Legal Services Delivery: What Students and New Lawyers Need to Know program held by Osgoode Professional Development and Queen’s Faculty of Law. The evening provided JD students, articling students and new associates with fresh perspectives, insights and tips on current trends in the legal profession through four informative discussion panels. Each panel included a selection of legal professionals working in a wide variety of roles, who shared their unique experiences and valuable advice on the future of the legal industry. My three takeaways of the evening were:
Takeaway #1: Embrace Networking
There are no real surprises here; many legal professionals in training have long understood networking to be part of the job. However, as the profession moves towards smaller specialized firms, boutiques, and sole practitioners—a trend noted by many panellists—knowing who knows the answer will be as important as knowing the answer itself.
As incoming legal professionals, we will benefit greatly from building relationships and networks as soon as possible. Fortunately, most of us have already started; we’ve built relationships at law school; now we need to work at maintaining those relationships and developing new ones throughout our careers.
Application: Make time for lunch with colleagues at other firms and keep your thumb on the pulse of both legal and non-legal networking events. And learn to use social media! Social media is a great tool to help enable your networks. The effort you put into building your network now will prove invaluable in the future.
Takeaway #2: Embrace Project Management
A theme that ran through most—if not all—of the panels was the idea that as incoming lawyers, we need to assume a more “hands-on” role in file management. Clients are demanding efficient solutions at lower prices, and the legal profession has to adjust to this change.
Application: Embracing project management doesn’t mean that you have to know all the ins and outs of a file’s budget; simply ask about the budget and how you can help stay within its parameters is a great start. If you’re currently studying, take the time to develop your project management practices. If you’re currently practicing; consider programs related to project management to fulfill continuing legal education requirements.
Takeaway #3: Embrace Client Service
Students and new associates need to learn the client aspect of the legal profession. We spend our time in school learning how to read judgments, apply jurisprudence to exam problems and write papers. However, these skills don’t adequately teach us how to interact with the clients to whom we owe a fiduciary duty.
Newcomers to the legal profession need to learn to effectively and thoughtfully interact with clients. More and more, clients want to know where their money is going and how their file is progressing. We have to be able to understand clients’ needs while communicating the law, possible risks and the client’s options or potential outcomes.
Application: Similar to project management, no one is saying that law students or junior associates must or should strive to take over client communications. But we should take an interest in working with clients early so we can develop those skills.
All in all, as a law student, Disruption in Legal Services Delivery was interesting, exciting, and encouraging. I had some reservations going in; would the future legal landscape be all doom and gloom? But as the panels progressed, I kept thinking, “I’ve done that!” or “I know how to do that!” There are countless opportunities to develop; we just have to learn what they are and where to look for these opportunities.