6 skills small law firms need in 2021

Here are skills small firms must develop to avoid being left behind in a changing industry

6 skills small law firms need in 2021

Lawyers in small law firms with years of experience under their belts may feel that upgrading their skillset is optional. However, if lawyers don’t develop certain key skills today, they could have a tough time staying competitive in tomorrow’s market.

To build business in 2021, here are six critical skills that small law firms develop to avoid being left behind in a changing industry.

Read more: Small law firms “increasingly vulnerable” says consultancy

1. Marketing skills

In the past, lawyers used to rely on meeting clients for lunch or playing golf to market themselves. But today, having the right marketing skills ties directly to your firm’s ability to attract clients. Learning the general principles of marketing and creating a written marketing plan will keep your firm organized and professional.

2. Legal design thinking

The term “legal design” was first coined by Stanford academic Margaret Hagan and focuses on creating legal services that are usable and engaging. The idea is that your firm should offer services centred around efficiency and practicality to keep them accessible to a broader range of clients.

For instance, Brave Legal, a boutique firm focused on personal injury matters, has a “no-win, no fee” model, with the firm saying on their website that they work “on the basis that you deserve to receive the majority of your compensation and we will reduce our fees where necessary to ensure this is the case.”

“Law has always been a noble profession and for a long time it’s been immune to the forces that have compelled other sectors to compete… But that’s being ripped away now,” says Blake Connell, senior lawyer at the Digital Transformation Agency.  “People are starting to say, ‘if my lawyer isn’t effective for me, I’ll go somewhere else’.”

Read more: Brave Legal founder goes back to the basics

3. Familiarity with technology and data analysis

A key skill for lawyers in small firms is the ability to analyse and present data – and supplementing your legal skills with an understanding of the latest financial management software and e-disclosure processes can work to your advantage. You can also improve your data analytics skills by learning essential functions in Microsoft Excel functions, such as pivot tables and basic graph functions.

According to Pinsent Masons client consulting head Mike McGlinchey, the benefits of this skill include reduced risk and improved time delays.

“I worked with one client who required hand-written amendments and approvals on contracts,” says McGlinchey. “There was an endless cycle of print, mark-up, scan, and email. These documents were distributed as PDFs so a quick transition to use Adobe Acrobat ‘sticky notes’ alleviated much of this onerous activity.”

4. Language skills

In an increasingly globalised world, geographic borders are no longer barriers to trade and commerce, and many firms are expanding their international presence. This means that multilingual practitioners are in higher demand than ever before. 

Law firm Littler’s recent hire of India-licensed practitioner Isha Malhotra, who communicates in fluent Hindi, highlights the importance of a global firm overcoming language barriers.

“As we continue to grow our presence in the Asia Pacific region, adding an attorney with Isha’s depth of experience serving employers in India is an important milestone and further expands the service we provide to clients,” says Trent Sutton, regional hub head of Littler APAC.

Read more: These are the soft skills lawyers feel they need while working remotely

5. Commercial awareness

To provide comprehensive legal assistance, firms must have an in-depth understanding of the factors that impact business operations, such as competitors and political, economic and social influences.

The term “commercial awareness” means staying up to date on daily events in the business world, such as current business deals and legislative changes. Reading news, listening to business podcasts, attending seminars/webinars, and participating in industry-specific events will allow you to appreciate the internal and external factors that influence the business environment, and in turn, tailor your services as needed.

6. Financial acumen

Developing financial literacy allows you to think critically about economic issues, provide relevant advice to your clients and make informed decisions for your practice.   

The Law Institute of Victoria lists the following benefits of being a financially savvy lawyer:

  • Enhanced credibility with clients
  • An better understanding of financial statements that they can present as evidence in legal proceedings
  • A greater capability to handle trust money
  • The ability to detect and report suspicions of questionable accounting practices

In today’s highly competitive legal industry, lawyers in small firms need many skills – and a successful lawyer would prioritise continual skill development throughout all stages of their career.

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