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Mark Hodgson

Partner, The Wilkes Partnership

Quotation Marks
Dealing with people is not an exact science but neither is it a dark art

'The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades'

'The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades'


What has the World Economic Forum got to do with training young lawyers in essential skills? Mark Hodgson explains

The legal landscape is changing and if our traditionally slow-to-change, conservative profession is to meet the changes that are afoot, we need to consider now how to build and prepare for that future. In 2016, the World Economic Forum (WEF) published a paper, “The Future of jobs – Employment Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution”. The introduction to this report said disruptive changes to business models will have a “profound impact on the employment landscape over the coming years. Many of the major drivers of transformation currently affecting global industries are expected to have a significant impact on jobs, ranging from significant job creation to job displacement, and from heightened global productivity to widening skills gaps”. Why am I quoting from this report? The millennial generation, who are the future of our profession, are graduating from university and applying for jobs within the legal marketplace as paralegals and trainees. Our experience as a firm is that while millennials undoubtedly embrace the technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, they lack some of the skills we believe are critical to being a great lawyer. So what has brought about these changes? My own view is the education landscape has changed considerably since the introduction of high tuition fees. There is huge pressure on today’s students to gain high grade degrees to justify the expense and the loans incurred throughout their university life. In times past (speaking as one who graduated in 1984), the university experience was about gaining a well-rounded education with equal emphasis upon the social aspect and personal development. As a result, some of skills which students traditionally picked up just by leaving home and living independently have been sacrificed in pursuit of a first-class degree. Trainees leaving law school are given the knowledge of the basic law to equip them in the office to become employees, but not necessarily some of the softer skills they need to deal with clients, interact with colleagues and generate their own work. The WEF report particularly resonated with me as to the aspects we need to look at in developing our future professionals.

The WEF highlighted the ten key skills needed to make a great employee. In order of significance, these are:
— Complex problem solving;
— Coordinating with others;
— People management;
— Critical thinking;
— Negotiation;
— Quality control;
— Service orientation; Judgement and decision making;
— Active listening; and
— Creativity. The WEF believed that by 2020 those skills would change so that the top ten skills would in 2020 then be (again in order of significance):
— Complex problem solving;
— Critical thinking;
— Creativity;
— People management;
— Coordinating with others;
— Emotional intelligence;
— Judgement and decision making;
— Service orientation;
— Negotiation; and
— Cognitive flexibility.

It reiterated these findings in its 2018 report. These are all skills which are essential in the legal market; and the change is coming for the solicitors’ profession as it is in every other sector.


This leads to considering where our work comes from now; where will it come from in the future; and how we adapt to meet these changing needs. Most of our work comes from existing clients, other professionals and the referrals they make to us. One of my partners often says there are three questions being asked by clients before they appoint a lawyer: “Do I (or someone that I trust) know him/her?”; “Do I like him/ her?”; “Is he/she any good?” If you fail to get past the first two questions the third question becomes irrelevant. This is not something that can be overcome by AI (artificial intelligence for the non-millennials reading this) or any amount of computer power. So, having considered this I then reflected on the skills our employees need to make sure that work keeps coming. It was apparent, for example, that our junior staff were not comfortable in dealing with clients and in networking situations. This led to the question: how could we assist them to learn those skills?


With this in mind and with the assistance of my colleagues and our HR director, we decided to create a programme of seminars to fill this ‘skills gap’. In the first presentation, in February this year, I wanted to pass on some of my own experiences from more than 30 years in law to give our trainees and paralegals some comfort in understanding that while dealing with people is not an exact science, neither is it a dark art. In that first session, I explained to the attendees that life is a constant educational journey, a journey where they had already travelled many miles to achieve their degrees and professional qualifications – but if they continue to travel the journey and take time to invest in themselves, they will reap the benefits for the future. This is a future not just for their own benefit, but which will also benefit their employer and the profession as a whole. In the course of the session, I gave examples of how to make a favourable first impression; how to engage with people to win clients and work; and how to network in any given situation. At the end of the session we asked the attendees for feedback and to let us know whether there were other sessions that they felt they would like us to provide. I am pleased to say the feedback we received was favourable. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that one of my partners who also sat in the seminar commented that he too had gained from the experience – perhaps you can teach an old dog. What was apparent from the attendees’ feedback was that there were a number of subjects which the juniors wanted us to expand upon. This has developed into what we now call our “Junior Programme” which is aimed at paralegals, trainees and any junior lawyers who wish to attend. As an SRAapproved trainer, those who attend will also gain valuable CPD. Our second session took place in July and looked at social media and how it can work both for and against you. Our marketing manager gave a great presentation about the benefits of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and how all of those types of media could be used to their advantage and to gain clients. At the same time, a warning went out to remind attendees that once something is out in the social media, you can’t take it back – as any number of politicians and other public figures have discovered to their detriment.

We are continuously developing our programme with the intention of building up to a number of sessions over a rolling cycle, so nobody misses out. We will cover a number of topics in response to those requested by our attendees, focusing particularly on the skills highlighted by the WEF to give them the tools they need to become the next generation of great lawyers. In the words of Malcolm X: “Education is the passport to the future, for the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”