Technology and innovation

Diverse demands, versatile talents: Why law firms are becoming NewLaw educators

Historically, the staffing of law firms was seen through a single, lawyer lens. But looking ahead, the future firm will be fundamentally different! 

New technologies and data are redefining what it means to be a law firm. NewLaw needs collaborative, multidisciplinary teams to deliver existing and emerging legal services/products that meet client demands. 


One big problem: Where will this diverse talent come from?


As traditional education institutions struggle to keep pace with an evolving industry – the legal industry itself is stepping in to train a new legal workforce.


The first winds of change

For several decades, legally qualified individuals who decided against the practice of law, found roles in law firms in marketing, talent management, knowledge management, business development and recruiting. These roles were predominantly internal with some but limited external client contact.

For this first wave of so-called alternative careerists, being a lawyer was almost (if not definitely) a pre-requisite for being qualified for their role. But those roles have changed, new roles have emerged and new capabilities have evolved to service a different type of legal practice.


The second wave

So then, what differentiates the first wave from the second?

The second wave all share four key attributes:


  1. They’re performing a role that’s relatively new to the legal profession (i.e. a legal technologist)
  2. Their practical experience takes precedence over their formal qualifications
  3. They primarily focus on external and client matters, rather than operational or administrative tasks (though they may take on smaller internal roles in their job scope)
  4. They contribute directly to the delivery of new revenue streams


This multiskilled legal workforce that includes legal ops professionals, data analysts, and innovation consultants (to name a few) is:


  • leading on client work derived from new revenue streams;
  • becoming the preferred/main point of contact point for this work; and
  • providing capabilities critical to the delivery of legal advice work


One big problem: Extreme skill shortage

It’s one thing for firms to recognise they need more diverse skills but it’s proving to be another to source that talent.

As Ashurst Advance Partner and Co-Head and the Centre for Legal Innovation Advisory Board member Hilary Goodier describes it, “We are all aware that we’re in a war for talent.


“And when you consider that many of the roles and skills we are hiring for are new – or in some cases, don't even exist yet – the talent pool becomes a lot shallower.


“This of course means that we are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the demand for our services. I'd double the size of my team tomorrow if I could find the right people,” she says.


Evolution in the UK

So, with an increasing demand for different capabilities in NewLaw, how can we fill the skills gap?


Firms in the UK have taken a novel approach: developing the skills in-house.


In August 2021, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) joined an expanding group of law firms offering “training schemes in non-traditional areas of the legal industry” to law graduates – in their case, legal ops.


Prior to this and continuing to date, HSF offered lawyers in London and APAC secondment opportunities within their Legal Ops team to help build NewLaw and legal ops capabilities firm wide. They offered similar secondment opportunities for their Legal Ops team members to build comparable capabilities with clients in London and APAC.


In 2019, Ashurst launched the Ashurst Advance Pathway Programme. The NewLaw program offers graduates a structured career path in legal ops, project management, technology or process improvement.


As Terri Mottershead, Executive Director of the Centre for Legal Innovation at The College of Law observes, “In these firms and similar ones in the UK, the impetus for establishing the schemes has been to develop new expertise and apply it to their own business operations. But mostly, to offer the expertise as an additional new service/product to clients in areas like legaltech, legal ops, project/matter management and risk minimisation.”


Then, in October 2021, leading UK law firms, CMS UK, Dentons, Norton Rose Fulbright, HSF, Linklaters, and Slaughter and May, joined ranks with the University of Law and management consultancy Positive Pricing, to create a ground breaking program to train legal ops professionals. The program will “focus on innovation, automation, legal tech, process design, legal project management and the core skills of legal operations professionals.”


The Australian response

Are Australian law firms equally enthusiastic about playing both educator and employer?
Well, global firms like HSF and Ashurst have avidly embraced the opportunity to be part of and shape the Australian legal industry’s initiative to develop NewLaw legal talent.

HSF Legal Operation’s Assistant Director Libby Jarvis, Lead Catherine Adamson and Ashurst Advance Partner and Co-Head Hilary Goodier offered their thoughts on these decisions.

“Internal training programs benefit everyone. Developing talent in-house expands your offering to clients to better understand their needs from new angles. And to deliver new service areas to meet those needs,” says Libby.

“Plus, this diversity of thought naturally brings new perspectives to approach challenges and opportunities – which is essential in driving change,” adds Catherine.

For Hilary, there’s a strong case for firms to invest in diverse skillsets.


“Having NewLaw talent in our firm differentiates us in an increasingly competitive and largely conservative legal market.


“That differentiation is important with clients, and also in attracting and retaining the best people. Diverse thinking is key to creativity and problem solving. You can only achieve that by having a broad range of skills and perspectives at the table,” she says.


New opportunities, new ecosystem?

The question remains as to whether or not these new roles will, like osmosis, transform the legal industry as a whole?

To answer that question, one needs to look no further than the alternative legal service provider market. It’s a market akin to the new revenue streams being embraced by NewLaw firms – and it’s Lead Catherine Adamson and Ashurst Advance now estimated at a near USD 14 billion, and growing at around a billion each year!
So, the signs seem to be pointing to a definitive “yes,” as they do to increasingly exciting new opportunities.

As firms are transforming to NewLaw firms, it would seem their staffing is also changing from that single, lawyer focussed lens to a seamless multifocal reflection of a new, different, collaborative and multiskilled workforce.

If you would like to stay up-to-date with changes in the legal ecosystem, and learn from and connect with NewLaw firm thought leaders, follow the Centre for Legal Innovation on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter – and sign up for its bi-monthly Newsletter.