Associates no longer get much of the on-the-job-training that firms once provided, usually at the client’s expense, to fill in the gaps between the theory they learned in law school and the realities of practice. And now there are more obvious gaps in the ability of young associates (and much older ones, as well) to competently represent clients in the digital age. While legal providers languish in this area (at the same time they are talking a good “innovation” and “technology” game), a McKinsey report quantifies the advantages of data-competent organizations as 23 times more likely to acquire customers, six times more likely to retain customers, and 19 times more likely to be profitable as a result.
But becoming digitally competent is not the only hurdle facing lawyers who want to be 21st century experts. The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report (executive summary) identifies the skills required in the digital age as critical thinking and problem solving–that mainstay of legal expertise, but also includes “social skills”–notably emotional intelligence and collaboration, which they maintain are now not only equally important workplace competencies but will be in higher demand across industries than “technical skills.” Over just five years, emotional intelligence has made it into the top ten skills, joining creativity, cognitive flexibility, and people-management skills. These are the skills that are largely ignored in legal academics and also are likely to actually decline during law school, as has been found in medical schools.
These “soft skills” are also essential to other results, including perhaps the biggest hurdle to practice improvements: innovation and change management—persuading historically recalcitrant lawyers to engage in constant analysis, improvement and training in response to needed advancements in a constantly changing environment.
If our law schools and/or our legal places of employment don’t start putting a premium on social skills competence, traditional lawyering will quickly go the way of other disrupted industries.