The shift in today’s working world is pushing corporate law to find a new normal. Corporate lawyers need to move seamlessly with this shift and take on the new profile of a liquid lawyer.
Author: Carlos de la Pedraja García-Cosío, Vice Dean and General Manager of IE Law School
The profile of corporate lawyers has been changing radically over the past several years for multiple, well-identified reasons. Technology, globalization, the power of clients, new generations of lawyers and business models, the appearance of new competitors, and the crisis of the traditional law firm model, to name but a few. Legal knowledge is not the sole element of legal delivery; business and technological competencies are equally important, forcing corporate lawyers to become experts in multiple fields. In addition to having a technical skill set, corporate lawyers need to update and fully develop their soft skills. These include cross-collaboration, creativity, lateral thinking, the ability to solve complex problems, emotional intelligence, and flexibility.
In my recent travels, just before the pandemic hit, I lectured about hybrid talent and how lawyers can become the mermaids or centaurs of law by developing and combining the soft skills described above. But what residual effects will be felt after COVID-19? Is the skills needed for lawyers trend we talked about before the global lockdown going to continue? Will this new reality have an impact on the skills needed to succeed in the business of law?
Skills needed for lawyers: Adapting alongside our new normal
Recently, Mark A. Cohen, a consultant and international legal expert, wrote that this situation “will turbocharge legal industry transformation,” and I wholeheartedly agree. The new situation is accelerating changes in the current business model. In the “new normal,” the virtual world prevails over the physical one, remote meetings replace face-to-face contact, and technology and the discovery of new communication tools for clients, suppliers, agencies, and lawyers are the main focus. Even though many of us knew that law, like so many other industries, was undergoing a tectonic shift, the pandemic has since confirmed that another way of working, another way of advising, and another way of collaborating are all possible. By developing lawyer skills, which integrate the best of both the virtual and physical worlds, we will be able to reinvent ourselves.
But, let’s not get our hopes up just yet. Currently, how we work is changing, but the business model remains the same. A transformation in business models will undoubtedly be the next step in the evolution of the new legal world.
The client will be the absolute center of the corporate legal universe, and the realities with which we will work will become increasingly complex and multidisciplinary.
Survival in our new reality: Corporate lawyers upskilling flexibility and precision
Who will best thrive in our new reality? We know that in the world of corporate law, there will still be a great deal of work, but previous crises have shown us that the type of work will be different. The industry needs flexible lawyers who are capable of dedicating themselves at all times to the precise “surgery” that is law. M&A lawyers will now be dedicated to restructuring or reviewing contract clauses, while also applying different legal knowledge. Litigation lawyers will be committed to bankruptcy, labor legislation or arbitration, and mediation. In short, the areas in which there will be more work will change and lawyers will have to quickly become experts in new disciplines. However, this is nothing new to lawyers, as they have had to face these situations in the past.
The great challenge for corporate law is not found in the shifts in legal competencies, but in upskilling: the ability to learn entirely new lawyer skills and competencies that reflect the new reality. This new reality is more liquid, more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, more digital and above all, more ambiguous. It is the VUCA environment elevated to the nth degree; where making decisions, getting them right, and foreseeing what tomorrow will bring is becoming more challenging even as we speak. It is the moment for leadership with a capital L, not for management which is being deployed as a quick fix to save the business. It is the moment when technology, data analysis and metrics will become paramount. Now, leadership must be combined with a healthy dose of creativity and imagination, and only lawyers capable of imagining the future of the profession will survive these shifts.
Lawyer skills: Morph into a highly demanded professional of tomorrow
Without a doubt, one of the differentials of this new era will be interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. Collaboration with clients, suppliers, competitors, partners, public bodies, and multidisciplinary teams will be pivotal points of the profession. The client will be the absolute center of the corporate legal universe, and the realities with which we will work will become increasingly complex and multidisciplinary. For this reason, the development of critical thinking and problem solving, combined with decision making, will be the most-demanded skills. So, from a skills needed for lawyers perspective, getting it right will not be simple over the coming years.
In short, the new legal world requires a new profile: the “liquid lawyer.” A flexible professional capable of adapting to changing realities and environments. One who can work in person and remotely, and is comfortable working with multiple legal systems. A lawyer who understands the immense technological possibilities at their disposal and who can work with data and metrics. A liquid lawyer is one who can make decisions in a world that is constantly changing and does so using large doses of creativity, leading their team on an unprecedented adventure.
Carlos is the current General Manager and Vice Dean of IE Law School. With an expert knowledge of the legal industry, Carlos has worked for over 20 years transforming the sector, exploring new ways of offering legal services, and developing new professional skills. Carlos teaches Talent Management courses for several executive programs, as well as Human Resources courses at IE Business School. Carlos holds a law degree from the University of Oviedo, and completed a Master in Human Resources and a Master in Legal Consultancy at IE Business School.
Note: The views expressed by the author of this paper are completely personal and do not represent the position of any affiliated institution.