The Future of Big Law: Learning
The Counselpath Team
June 20, 2022
“The Future of Big Law” is a new insights series curated by Counselpath.com, a leading UK careers platform for experienced solicitors. We are interviewing industry thought leaders on the key trends shaping the future of the legal profession. Part I focuses on Learning. Sign up to our newsletter to hear about the next instalments in the series, which will cover culture, sustainability, mental health and more.
Jim Moser is the Director of Professional Development at The University of Law. He has 20+ years of experience at the intersection of law and professional development. Jim was previously Director of Professional Development at Dundas & Wilson (now part of CMS) and before that a solicitor specialising in commercial real estate. In his current role, he focuses on executive education and collaborating with law firms on training strategy and delivery.
Good morning, Jim. Could you tell us about your professional journey to date?
I got my first job in law when I was still a student, working for a local law firm during summer holidays. I was doing all sorts of jobs there – the postman, the paralegal, and so on. There is a tendency sometimes to undervalue the ‘summer’ jobs we might have done as students. However, law is a business of customer service, and if you ever worked at a place like M&S you would have picked up something about that. Those are all valuable learning experiences.
I later qualified at that firm. In those days, you were largely not trained in the way that we would expect now in a major firm. You were assigned to a partner and off you went. There wasn’t a very deliberate strategy as to the skills you were learning. That’s when I first realised things were perhaps not as good as they might have been.
I stayed in law practising commercial property, became an Associate Partner, and then quit the profession for a 3-year break from law. I became a qualified trainer and taught foreign lawyers specialist legal English. It was my first professional involvement with learning.
I eventually went back to law and became involved with L&D, for example I ran the Real Estate School of Anderson Legal. Eventually I became the Director of Professional Development at Dundas and Wilson. Dundas was later acquired by CMS, and I’ve stayed there as Head of Client and Community Learning until my current post at The University of Law.
From the perspective of being involved with L&D throughout all your career, how have you seen this landscape evolve?
It has changed fundamentally. Looking at learning in law historically, lawyers have always been taught by their master. Looking back at the past 800 years, law was typically practiced by independently operating individuals, perhaps with one or two people working for them. They would train them as their apprentice initially, then as their assistant, until they became a partner with them. That form of learning was in place until after the WWII.
The big shift has been the emergence of organised training at law firms. The legal training path both in Scotland and England is very different from for example the medical path. Second year university students in medicine work directly with patients. Compare that with law, where very few work with a client when they are an undergrad. To partly address this challenge, there are now vocational post grad systems, which aim to satisfy new trends that have evolved in the modern world.
The most important are changing client expectations. When I started, clients and lawyers did not communicate as you would imagine in present days. Nowadays everybody has an expectation to be able to ask their lawyer what an earth they are doing. Why are they doing it? Clients can now check things on the internet. That has totally changed the client service model, which of course has affected how people learn to collaborate with clients.
Moreover, technology has changed the way we work. Time recording have made us more productive and that’s generally good, but also has its downsides. If you spend your whole day fee earning, when do you do any learning? Of course you learn on the job, but what if you squeeze out all other opportunities to read cases and to study new law? Organised learning has become essential to compensate for time constraints caused by advances in technology.
What’s your view on new L&D trends that could emerge in the future?
That’s always an interesting question. It’s difficult to predict what the trends will be, but I think they will emerge from two key sources.
Firstly, from the changing shape of legal provision. When I was starting out, legal services were provided by pure law firms of relatively small size. Today we have got giant corporations covering multiple disciplines and lots of stakeholders (outside advisors, industry experts, paralegals etc). Many services are delivered entirely digitally. All of this leads to an imperative to learn new skills.
Secondly, new trends will emerge from the changing nature of society. We’ve talked about client communication, and I remember a situation from my early career. A woman came into reception to enquire about a house purchase. I was asked to get her details, the name of the house and say we’d be in touch. We never reported to her on the progress of the deal. We even unilaterally set the date on which she would have to move. In today’s world this would be unimaginable. This evolution in service standards implies lawyers need to acquire new skills.
What skills do you think will become increasingly important for lawyers in the future?
The need for new skills tends to come in waves. The first wave was arguably about the classic skills like negotiation and drafting. Operational constraints driven by time recording systems meant we had to get more organised as a profession.
The second wave of skills has arguably been the need to understand commercial matters, such as how law firms operate, how time recording leads to profits, how to sell work etc. Lawyers have had to learn to sell in a way they never did before. When I started, we didn’t do any marketing at all, it was in fact against the rules. Now, of course, we do it all the time.
We are now arguably experiencing a third wave, which is about legal tech, AI, and behavioural skills. By that I mean how we communicate with our clients and colleagues, how we reach decisions, how we get value out of meetings. A lot of industries have been looking at this, and law is now very much involved in that as well.
What is the future of L&D delivery across different learning channels?
Face-to-face learning will remain extremely valuable. The pandemic has provided a lot of insight into this. This channel will continue, albeit in an increasingly digitised setting. There is a lot of experimentation with online face-to-face learning, for example with multiple room cameras that facilitate a more immersive experience of participating in a live meeting.
Secondly, we will need to see more widespread ‘train the trainer’ programmes to ensure there are enough professionals who can facilitate organised learning, especially in the corporate context. Just because someone is an excellent lawyer doesn’t mean they will be an excellent trainer, as this requires a particular set of skills.
Finally, there is a lot more of new technology to embrace, including 3D image transmission. We have to eliminate bad online learning experiences, particularly asynchronous e-learning where people watch videos and hardly learn anything at all. To be effective, learning new skills must be closely integrated with on-the-job experience.
What should law firms be doing today to stay ahead of the curve in L&D?
One of the things the industry needs to do to get better at is more players recognising the value of learning, especially at post-qualification level. I feel too often learning is viewed as a cost, and not as an essential enabler of financial success.
The key change is for legal businesses to consider learning as strategically important to meeting their business objectives. The big players are at the forefront of this, but there is more that can be done across the industry to move forward.
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