Transitioning to tech-focused roles: Part Two

Transitioning to tech-focused roles: Part Two

06 September 2021 By Jerome Doraisamy

Even before COVID-19 struck, tech roles were shaping up to be the way of the future, said four professionals.

To read Part One of this story, click here.

Is now the time to move into tech?

One of the things that COVID-19 has highlighted, Atlassian senior counsel (regulatory affairs and ethics) Anna Jaffe mused, is the resilience and promise of the tech sector.

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“Recent research launched by the Tech Council of Australia illustrates the wide variety of companies that form part of the sector – in terms of size, scope and subject matter – as well as how big the sector has become and its incredible growth trajectory,” she outlined.

“It is clear that the tech sector is hugely diverse in terms of the types of work and types of companies involved – but this diversity also needs to translate to the people it employs as it grows. So, if you're a lawyer interested in technology, now is the time to jump in to help shape the tech sector and ensure that it has that diversity of thought, perspective and experience as it continues to expand.”

Such a jump might be appealing for lawyers who find that the “strict boundaries of law [are] a bit constrictive”, as was the case for FrontFoot.Law director David Curtain.

“These boundaries are now more permeable than ever, creating opportunities to work in ways that were previously much less accessible. It was often hard to be seen as anything other than a lawyer, but that’s changing. The recent explosion of new technology and business models has opened up new and exciting career pathways for those who want something different to a traditional legal career path,” he proclaimed.

What the age of coronavirus has also done, Google software engineer and former barrister Zubin Pratap added, is prompt some navel-gazing about what we value in our lives.

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“Roles in tech are exciting because it's part of the zeitgeist – this is the age of tech, and so most tech jobs occupy that exciting intersection of challenge, velocity, economic value and fun. It also attracts some of the most interesting people I've met. Every era has its ‘hot’ professions: in the 80s and 90s it was finance, law and consulting! In the early 2000s it was start-up and then mobile apps, and now it's all sorts of technology, AI and biosciences, etc.,” he said.

“Lawyers are naturally motivated, smart, hardworking and endurance learners – so they have an advantage in terms of having the horsepower and work ethic required to reskill and reinvent themselves.”

Even before COVID-19 struck, Linktree senior product manager and former solicitor Carmen Chung reflected, she felt that tech-based roles are the way of the future.

“At the risk of sounding like I'm scaremongering, the reality is that technology is going to replace some jobs – and even entire industries. Many lawyers will say that there's no way that technology can replace what they do, but think of all the industries where people have felt the same way in the past (things like music and art), and look at what technology has already been able to achieve,” she said.

“We have machines who can take entire genres of art and mix them together to produce a unique and beautiful style, and we have software that can listen to music being played and produce improv layers that blend harmoniously with it, in real-time. And for those who think they're safe because they work with words, we now have GPT-3, OpenAI’s language generator, writing entire essays from scratch with no human involvement.”

The industries that will be less affected by technology will be ones where there has been a deliberately high barrier of entry placed against tech entrants, Ms Chung went on, “and those that still require a high degree of human touch – but even those won't be able to avoid the intrusion of tech completely”.

The pace of change is ‘breathtaking, and often quite overwhelming’

Ms Chung loves her job, she told Lawyers Weekly, adding that such a proclamation sounds crazy to some of her friends who are still practising lawyers.

“What excites me about my role is that I get to work with people who are incredibly smart, kind and passionate, to develop a platform that helps over 16 million people around the world unify their digital presence in one place. It's mind-blowing to think that when one of my teams releases a feature, our work provides value to millions of people, from all sorts of backgrounds, across the globe,” she detailed.

“That sort of scale of positive impact just never felt possible in corporate law. Finally, I love the dynamic, ever-evolving nature of tech, and the personal and professional development that it offers. For anyone with a growth mindset, the tech industry can be your playground. There's so much to learn and achieve, and the possibilities are endless.”

Ms Jaffe supported this: “I feel incredibly lucky in this role to have found a way to continue to learn about and upskill in the areas that I've long been fascinated by, while at the same time having a practical impact on how these issues are likely to evolve in future.”

“Every workplace has challenges in this space, and it would be naïve to expect not to find any challenges”, Mr Curtain warned, but added that he greatly prefers being able to implement solutions instead of being frustrated by these challenges.

“In my work with FrontFoot.Law it’s a pleasure to work with great clients and solve thorny problems for them. Whatever technology or processes you’re using; they all link up to people. It’s that intersection with people that’s most rewarding for me,” he said.

For Mr Pratap, the pace of change in tech-based roles for lawyers and former lawyers is “breathtaking, and often quite overwhelming”.

“I find that exciting, but also exhausting at times! But since I love learning and I enjoy the intellectual challenge of solving problems, being a software engineer is very rewarding for me. I find that technology fires the imagination, and has such reach and impact that everyone wants to use it to solve problems,” he said.

“As a result, I tend to be surrounded by people who are idealistic, wanting to make a difference, analytical, and energised by their purpose ...and I should emphasise this is not just at Google. I've found this in the tech sector generally. There is something fresh and optimistic about tackling old and new problems with humanity's latest, and most powerful tool: digital technologies.”

Final thoughts

For those interested in exploring a transition into tech, Ms Chung advised, “there's no need to rush”.

“It took me two years to make the move, and it was after lots of careful analysis, some online learning, and speaking to many people who had taken the leap before me to get a gauge of the right approach for me,” she said.

It is useful to note, Ms Jaffe pointed out, that going into a tech-based or tech sector role doesn't always mean that you need to stop being a lawyer: “The wide variety of roles available in the sector mean that there are countless opportunities for lawyers to apply their legal skills and try new things, without necessarily leaving the legal profession.”

If one is curious about this area, Mr Curtain suggested, just jump in and start small.

“Follow someone on social media who’s posting about an area you find interesting. Ask someone working in that space for coffee and get them to tell you about their work. Attend a talk or a meetup. Enrol in a short course,” he outlined.

“There’s a wealth of information and great people out there. From there you can follow your instinct as to what you find exciting and what feels like a good fit. Also, invest in your health, especially if you are working through a period of career transition involving extra work on top of a day job.”

Lawyers interested in such roles, Mr Pratap surmised, need to reckon with the fact that they may be holding themselves back.

“It's understandable [that they do so], because we are trained to analyse and we are paid to focus on risk. This makes us prone to overthinking things. And so, we hold ourselves back with very logical, rational and well-articulated rebuttals of our own dreams!”

“In hindsight, I think I had evolved into a ‘professional pessimist’ and it took several years to retrain myself out of that mindset! But as long as lawyers nurture their growth mindset, remember how much they sacrificed and overcame to become lawyers and then channel that discipline to their next ambition, I think they will always beat a path to whatever dream they have,” he concluded.

“They just have to give themselves permission to fail their way to success, regardless of the profession.  The key point is that it IS possible. And with enough commitment, it's actually very likely you will succeed in switching careers, no matter what stage you're at.”  

To read Part One of this story, click here.

The Lawyers Weekly Legal Firm of Choice Survey is now open, giving legal professionals the opportunity to confidentially say what areas their firm is responding well to – and where they could improve. The annual survey, which is partnered by Momentum Intelligence, also forms the basis for the Top 25 Attraction Firms ranking, identifying the firms legal professionals most want to work for. To take part in the survey, click here. The survey will close on 15 September.

Transitioning to tech-focused roles: Part Two
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