The legal industry is changing more than ever before.
Modern technology and innovative platforms present new ways to perform legal work, helping to make processes quicker and more efficient, with the potential to increase profitability. In tandem, clients’ expectations are shifting too, driven by more demand, complexity and increased competition. Which ultimately means they demand more from their lawyers and retained firms across the board.
As a future solicitor, your job potential isn’t just based on the academic credentials or work experience you can list on a CV. While having contacts and relationships with hiring firms can be a bonus, providers of legal services need talent that can deliver expertise while driving commercial value. Which again, is driven by legal tech. Research by BPP University Law School further highlights the long-term need this from modern solicitors, with 51% saying legal tech skills are what they will need most in the future. To put this into perspective, this ranked higher than commercial awareness and the ability to manage one’s own mental health and wellbeing.
Even from a commercial standpoint, HSBC’s Legal Tech Analysis Report from 2019 highlights over 80% of surveyed responses saying that technology was the most strategically important element to their firm in order to stay competitive.
While the weight and relevance of legal tech is clear from firms and professionals, this isn’t necessarily reflected by regulators or education providers within the industry to the degree that it arguably should be. This is an alarming concept given that the adoption of newer technologies has accelerated since COVID and the proliferation of remote working.
From 2021, the Solicitors Regulation Authority in the UK is introducing a new set of assessments for students who are looking to become qualified solicitors – known as the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). While the SQE offers accessibility for a wider range of future trainees and core skills, there is no mention or further narrative on legal tech within the syllabus.
On paper this may seem innocuous, but the reach of legal tech is wide. For example, HighQ is a leading tech platform used across the legal profession by firms including Addleshaw Goddard, Eversheds Sutherland, Osborne Clarke, Allen & Overy and more. Knowledge of the platform, and indeed other elements of legal tech, offers a major advantage to students. In the long run, tools like HighQ will help students project manage and design tech solutions that can be used to solve problems in practice, alongside an understanding of other legal tech such as big data, automation and artificial intelligence.
As part of some of its current courses, BPP University Law School has adopted the HighQ platform to ensure future law students gain valuable experience using legal technology in the practice of law – so it’s similar to what they will experience during their future career. They are asked to use HighQ to solve problems through data collection, visualisations and workflows in the same manner as organisations and potential future employers, who already use the platform.
Crucially, this experience and knowledge which can be vital for practice isn’t featured in the SQE assessments or SQE prep courses from selected training providers.
From the viewpoint of a future legal professional, it would also be prudent of future trainees and pupils to ask how progressive a firm or chambers is with their adoption of legal tech. Unless it doesn’t offer value or efficiency within practice, which on the face of it is likely to be rare, a lack of innovation or digital ingenuity can act as a red flag for future lawyers who are looking for development with an employer in the modern legal age.