Latest news – Demand for female barristers; Change too much for many law firms; Technical skills trump soft skills

[Australasian Law Management Journal,Compliance & Risk Management,Finance & Accounting,General Management,People Management(HR),Strategy & Leadership,Technology] November 1, 2019

Recommendations starting to flow for female barristers

Female barristers are starting to receive more briefs and are more often recommended for work by their colleagues in new or current matters, according to new Law Council of Australia data. But the Law Council’s Equitable Briefing Policy Annual Report 2017-18 shows that female barristers still lag behind male colleagues when it comes to the number and value of briefs. It found that female barristers received a quarter of the 23,170 briefs reported by the 44 briefing entities for the period. During the reporting period, male barristers received 83 per cent of the total reported fees.

The chair of the Law Council’s Equal Opportunity Committee, prominent female barrister Kate Eastman SC, said while there was obvious room for improvement, the report set a foundation for the profession to continue to build upon.

“It’s early days for the Equitable Briefing Policy, but we’ve already seen a change in briefing practices, with firms and clients actively identifying a barrister who is best for the job rather than just the barrister they always use,” Eastman said. “This benefits all barristers, shifting the focus to a barrister’s expertise and experience. The firms have told us they welcome a deeper and wide pool of talent of Australian barristers. Importantly, the work of experienced and talented female barristers is receiving more coverage, highlighted in big cases and in a string of recent royal commissions. We know the legal profession is changing – the majority of Australian law students and solicitors are women. So if Australian bars want to remain relevant in the future, they also need to change. But change doesn’t happen by accident. We need to embrace diversity and provide real opportunities for female law students and practitioners at the bar. The legal profession has the opportunity to lead by example in ensuring equal opportunity in our workplaces and developing effective strategies to eliminate the gender pay gap.”

Law Council President, Arthur Moses SC, said while the report did show some gains for female barristers, the results illustrated a lot more work needs to be done. “The fact is that male barristers, as a group, received about three times the number of briefs and five times the value of briefs than their female counterparts. This is not acceptable and as a profession we can do much better,” Moses said. “It is good to see that in junior ranks targets are being met for female barristers, who received 30 per cent of the total briefs. This is a trend we must support and nurture. It is also interesting to note female barristers are more often recommended to take on new and current matters than males.”

Lawyers sceptical about firms’ ability to handle change

Just one-third of lawyers believe their organisation is “very prepared” to keep pace with changes in the legal market, according to a new survey.

The 2019 Future Ready Lawyer Survey from Wolters Kluwer, a global information services company, is based on quantitative interviews with 700 lawyers in law firms, legal departments and business services firms across the US and Europe. It examines how increasing information complexity, client demands, economic forces, changing demographics and technology advancements are affecting the future of law and how legal organisations are preparing themselves. The report notes that law firms are dealing with more and more complex of information, plus ever-increasing client demands. Yet only 34 per cent of respondents felt their firms were well places to respond.

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • Legal professionals report that the ‘Lack of Technology Knowledge, Understanding or Skills’comprise the top category of reasons for resisting new technology (36 per cent);
  • More than 7 in 10 lawyers across Europe and the US say that both “Coping with increased volume and complexity of information” and an “Emphasis on improved productivity and efficiency” are top trends. Yet, only 31 per cent feel very prepared to address it; and
  • The top challenges for corporate legal departments today include reducing and controlling outside legal costs; improving case and contract management; and automating routine tasks and leveraging technology in work processes.

Technical skills top wish list for legal employers

Employers in the legal field are placing a premium on technical skills, new research indicates. More than 6 in 10 lawyers (62 per cent) surveyed by Robert Half Legal said that their hiring decisions are influenced more by job candidates’ technical abilities than their soft skills.

Almost half of the survey respondents (48 per cent) cited cybersecurity as the top area of technology in which lawyers are expected to be competent. Data analytics ranked second, garnering 43 per cent of the survey response.

Lawyers were asked, “When evaluating professionals for open legal positions, which carries more weight: the candidate’s technical skills or his or her soft or nontechnical skills?” Their responses:*

  • Much greater weight on technical skills: 19%
  • Somewhat greater weight on technical skills: 43%
  • An even split: 30%
  • Somewhat greater weight on soft skills: 8%
  • Much greater weight on soft skills: 1%

Lawyers were also asked, “In which of the following areas of technology are lawyers expected to be competent at your law firm or company?” Their responses:** 

  • Cybersecurity: 48%
  • Data analytics: 43%
  • eDiscovery: 33%
  • Artificial intelligence: 31%
  • Blockchain: 17%
  • Don’t know: 6%
  • Not applicable: 9%

[** Multiple responses were permitted]

“With cybersecurity and data privacy at the forefront of many business issues, technical knowledge is essential for job candidates in the legal field,” said Jamy Sullivan, executive director of Robert Half Legal. “To provide superior client service, lawyers need to possess strong interpersonal abilities and leverage the latest technology, such as task automation, data analytics and information management tools, to enhance productivity and derive more successful outcomes.”

Sullivan added that legal professionals with technical expertise are needed to help organizations safeguard confidential information and improve efficiencies. “Data privacy and litigation support specialists, in particular, are seeing expanding job opportunities and above-average compensation.”