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Important skills for young legal professionals in an evolving landscape

As the legal industry continually evolves, law students will face a multitude of challenges and opportunities. Here, final-year and award-winning law students outline the key skills needed to mitigate those challenges – and discuss the endless possibilities for young lawyers in 2024.

user iconLauren Croft 05 February 2024 Big Law
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In recent years, technological advancements, changes in work dynamics and an increased focus on soft skills and diversity have resulted in a significantly evolved legal landscape for young lawyers – who need to be wary of various key trends and issues to be able to put their best foot forward and hit the ground running.

As the legal industry changes and the skill sets of lawyers change, law students and young lawyers now have more opportunities to leverage these changes and “carve out unique career paths”, Marque Lawyers paralegal and the Women in Law Awards 2023 Law Student of the Year winner Daphne Fong told Lawyers Weekly.

The landscape for young lawyers has undergone significant changes in recent years, driven by various factors that have reshaped the legal industry. One of the most notable shifts is the increasing integration of technology. Young lawyers with proficiency in technological skills, including expertise in e-discovery tools, legal research software, and data analytics, now play a pivotal role in shaping the legal landscape. The ability to leverage these tools not only enhances efficiency but also opens up new avenues for providing legal services in innovative ways,” she said.


“The aftermath of the pandemic has also introduced a newfound flexibility in the legal profession. Lawyers, including the younger generation, now have more options in choosing where they work – and how. The rise of virtual law firms and remote positions has become more prevalent, allowing young lawyers to explore diverse work arrangements that align with their preferences and lifestyles.

“Another notable trend is the increasing emphasis on specialisation within the legal field. Young lawyers are finding success by focusing on niche areas of law, such as Marque Lawyers’ electoral law practice. This shift towards specialisation provides opportunities for young lawyers to distinguish themselves and build expertise in specific, in-demand areas.”

The digital transformation of the legal profession has been particularly “impactful” for younger lawyers, added La Trobe University Law Students’ Association immediate past president and Women in Law 2023 Law Student of the Year finalist Andrya Younan, who said “traditional legal paradigms” no longer have to be the norm for law graduates entering the profession.

“The legal industry’s relationship with technology has deepened, demanding that lawyers actively engage with ongoing technological changes. This not only ensures the provision of efficient legal services and the maintenance of client relationships but also facilitates networking with peers who share similar professional interests. Young lawyers now have unprecedented access to technology, enabling them to stay connected with colleagues and clients, stay informed about the latest trends in the field, and explore diverse career paths,” she said.

“Traditionally, a law degree often led to a limited set of career options, such as becoming a lawyer, barrister, or advocate. However, as the economy has evolved and become more complex, young lawyers now have the opportunity to explore alternative career paths.

“These paths may include transitioning to roles in legal tech, contributing to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives within a firm, pursuing a career in academia, becoming an international advocate, and more. While these things might have been available before, there were not as many roles accessible to many young lawyers compared to the opportunities we have now.”

Now more than ever, Ms Younan argued, the legal industry “demands creativity and innovation to solve complex legal problems”, opening up a broader range of roles for those with a legal background.

“[With] the growing number of complex issues and constant changes in the legal industry, young lawyers now have the opportunity to specialise in niche areas of law. This flexibility enables them to choose paths aligned with their values or areas of interest, delving deep into specific legal domains,” she added.

“With increasing concerns about climate change and environmental issues, young lawyers will find themselves advising clients on matters that incorporate environmental considerations. This two-way street also sees clients seeking legal professionals who appreciate sustainability and actively contribute to climate improvement efforts. It’s important to stay up to date with environmental and climate issues and stay informed about the changes in the law.”

Changing skill sets

Different skills have also become vital for younger lawyers, such as soft skills, communication and technological skills.

“Soft skills have gained prominence in the evolving landscape for young lawyers. While legal expertise remains crucial, firms now place a greater emphasis on communication, collaboration, and business acumen. Young lawyers who can effectively communicate complex legal issues to clients and demonstrate strong interpersonal skills stand out in the competitive market. The importance of a well-rounded skill set, including diverse experiences and co-curricular activities, is also becoming increasingly evident in the hiring process,” Ms Fong explained.

“Moreover, diversity and inclusion have become key considerations in the legal profession’s hiring practices. Firms are recognising the value of a diverse workforce, understanding that it contributes to a richer and more dynamic legal environment. This recognition is shaping hiring decisions and fostering a more inclusive culture within law firms.”

Beyond understanding the importance of tech and artificial intelligence (AI), law students should “refine their interpersonal skills with people”, according to University of Technology Sydney final-year law student and winner of Law Student of the Year at the 2023 Australian Law Awards Kurt Cheng.

“With many students graduating this year having started their studies during the pandemic, many have not reaped the benefits of face-to-face interaction. Now more than ever, employers, whether in the law or not, want people who can communicate and collaborate with internal and external stakeholders.

“It’s never too late to get involved with your law society or student programs on offer at university to refine and [home] in on this important skill. Strong communication allows everyone in a workplace, a classroom or even amongst friends to achieve the best outcome,” he said.

“Employers started their careers in a world where working from home and online exams were never imagined, so the opportunities they had to develop communication skills were far greater. But that does not mean we cannot achieve the same; we just need to seek out those opportunities because they are all around us.”

Ms Younan echoed a similar sentiment – and emphasised that both communication and interpersonal skills are (and will remain) “crucial” for a legal career.

Most of the work at a firm involves collaborating with your team and being adaptable to change. Combining these skills with a high level of organisational skills will prove that you are reliable and efficient. This is especially important because law firms are also businesses that focus on client relationships,” she said.

“Being able to communicate with anyone in any industrial background will showcase that you are an asset to the team. Ultimately, while these things are important, empathy also plays an important role in the legal industry.”

These skills – in addition to keeping up to date with emerging trends in the profession – will help law students and young lawyers become more well-rounded professionals, added LaTrobe Law School student and Australian Law Awards 2023 finalist Liam Crough.

“Staying updated on legal developments is crucial for providing relevant and up-to-date advice. Law students should regularly read legal journals, follow reputable legal blogs, and participate in legal seminars and webinars. This continuous learning ensures that future lawyers remain at the forefront of legal knowledge and practice,” he said.

“Beyond technical knowledge, law students in 2024 should focus on critical thinking and analytical skills, essential for analysing complex information. Emotional intelligence and ethics are crucial for client interactions and negotiations. Effective communication skills are vital for advocacy and client relations. Adaptability and resilience are key in a demanding legal field. Lastly, networking is important for career opportunities and professional support. These skills collectively ensure a well-rounded, competent, and successful legal professional ready to tackle the challenges of a modern legal career.”

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