Olivia Parker, Careers Development Officer at the Law Society of Scotland, discusses Legal Cheek's recent event for students hosted by Pinsent Masons, focusing on how innovation in technology is changing the face of the profession.

In early June I attended Legal Cheek’s ‘Innovation in the Law’ event aimed at law students, hosted in partnership with Pinsent Masons. While I’m not a law student, I give out a lot of careers advice, so part of my job is keeping my finger on the pulse of what students need to know. Technology, innovation and commercial awareness are big-ticket items in the traineeship recruitment process and certainly subjects that all students are encouraged, and arguably now expected, to engage with.

This was a fantastic event with impressive questions from the audience, a brilliant panel* and a lively discussion. Here’s my round-up of the event to relay some key pieces of intel.

What are law students expected to know about legal tech?

One key message was that the principles of coding and engineering are good to know; but note the emphasis firmly on principles. You don’t need to be an IT expert, but if you know what the possibilities of using AI and technology are, you’ll naturally start to come up with more creative solutions that integrate technology. Start exploring the potential of different technologies and understand how the legal marketplace is using them.

Remember that pretty much everyone has the same generic IT skills, so if you want to prove an interest in technology, you really need to up your game. Having said that, solid Excel and Project Management skills are often the bread and butter of working in any modern office environment so they’re a great way to show you can master the basics.

The most important thing you can bring to the table is the right attitude. Embrace new ideas, evidence the fact that you’re curious and be able to show that you’re passionate about being cutting edge. You can draw on your experience here and talk about how you’ve done things differently and challenged the norms. This is realistically unlikely be specific to a legal or technological environment but problem-solving and innovation are very much transferable skills, so you can talk this in the context of any work or voluntary experience, or situations that have arisen at university.

Should universities embed technology-focused commercial awareness in their courses?

You may have heard we’re currently conducting a review of the route to qualification, part of which is dealing with whether we should be integrating more non-black letter law into the LLB, DPLP or traineeship. I’m always interested to hear different opinions on this topic. With graduate recruiters often demanding these skills of their future recruits, do we have a duty to teach them, or should it be down to the individual to go the extra mile to demonstrate their knowledge?

The panel were all in agreement that the teaching of black letter law is essential and it’s what allows lawyers to be specialists at the end of the day, therefore it must be a priority. The learning curve for new topics like commercial awareness can therefore be steep, so finding ways to integrate these into the more practical stages of teaching could arguably be explored. However, students should remember that awareness is enough at this stage – there isn’t the expectation of being able to demonstrate significant commercial or technological experience. For those students wanting to show they’re way ahead of the pack, there’s room for them to mark themselves out as having developed enhanced skills of their own and they should be recognised for that.

Is legal technology going to take over the job of a solicitor?       

For me, Mike McGlinchey, Head of Client Technology, delivered the perfect answer to this question: ‘AI is great at giving you the answer to the question, but the lawyer knows the question to ask in the first place’.

Technology is going to be a massive time-saver and will be able to fulfil a lot of administrative, paper-heavy tasks. But this leaves people to do more of ‘the interesting stuff’. Huge other projects will grow off the back of technological developments and we need to be there to identify the best opportunities for our clients.

In terms of how teams are starting to change now, the panel described how at Pinsent Masons, lawyers and data scientists often sit together to collaborate more effectively. Looking at career development, roles such as legal technicians and legal engineers straddle that gap even more closely to bring together lawyers, clients and technology. As technology becomes even more embedded, it’s likely that an ever-more diverse range of opportunities will open up.

The bottom line? Lawyers can’t ignore the shift towards technology. The risk of falling behind or even being overly-conservative (as lawyers arguably often are) is being left unable to serve the needs of clients as evidently, technological solutions are far from just a legal phenomenon.

*Introducing the panel…

Event host:
Alex Aldridge, Publisher, Legal Cheek

From Pinsent Masons:
Jen McCormick, Senior Associate (Finance & Projects, Banking & Restructuring)
Mike McGlinchey, Head of Client Technology
Imogen Dewar, Solicitor (Property, Planning & Environment and Energy & Infrastructure)
Yvonne Dunn, Partner (Risk Advisory Services, TMT)