“It is not the strongest of the species that survives,
not the most intelligent that survives.
It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
― Charles Darwin
Macroeconomic and geopolitical shifts, digital transformation, technological advances, and new enterprise risks are among a growing list of forces transforming business, the workforce, and careers. The speed, breadth, and interconnectivity of change requires business to reimagine its organizational structure, economic model, technology, processes, talent, strategic partners, and supply chain from the customer perspective. This is an ongoing, real-time journey essential to enterprise competitiveness and sustainability.
The convergent forces buffeting business are altering jobs, the workforce, and careers. Digital jobs will have a shorter shelf life as a result of business adapting to multiple change elements. Many positions will be altered or eliminated, replaced by roles that require talent with different skills, mindsets, experience, and agility. In the digital world, it is essential that individual talent and skills are accompanied by a team-orientation. That is what it takes to solve the complex problems, interconnected challenges confronting business.
The “one-firm approach,” is a term often applied to high-performing organizations like Goldman Sachs and McKinsey that have a highly-collaborative, team-oriented culture and operational model. They gang-tackle challenging problems by working fluidly and cross-functionally. Their institutional loyalty and high degree of collaboration contribute significantly to their enterprise success. McKinsey studied 2,000 companies across industries and found that “one-team” organizations were 2.3 times more likely to be in the top quartile of high performers.
Concomitant with the one-firm approach among leading enterprises is their high degree of “digital dexterity,” a concept introduced by Gartner. It describes organizations that have fluid, tech-savvy workforces that are empowered by easy-to-use technology. That enables them to pivot quickly and to make creative use of technology to design new ways for working more effectively, agilely, and impactfully. The digitally dexterous workforce is highly analytical, collaborative, and nimble. Gartner found that employees and organizations with a high degree of digital dexterity are three times more likely to launch, complete, and succeed in digital initiatives. They are adaptable, high performers, for whom change is an opportunity to improve the status quo.
The one-firm and digital dexterity findings make clear that digital transformation is more than technology; human adaptation, creativity, and considered, data-backed experimentation are also essential elements. Old ways of working are quickly being replaced by new ones that demand social intelligence (EQ) as much as cognitive agility. The speed of change demands a learning-for-life mindset. The complexity of business challenges requires teamwork, cross-functional collaboration, and the fluidity—both intellectual and social—to move quickly from one challenge to another.
Technological advances are accelerating the speed and breadth of change and heightening the importance of adaptation for individuals, the broader workforce, business, and society. To borrow from Ferris Bueller, “life moves pretty fast.” It’s about to accelerate. Goldman Sachs issued a report projecting generative AI has the potential to affect 25% of all current jobs globally. That’s a staggering 3ooM total.
A recent McKinsey report on the future of work found that more than 100M workers across eight economies studied may have to switch occupations by the end of this decade. These and other findings confirm that the workforce—and that includes legal professionals—must start preparing for new roles and career diversification.
Career Diversification Is About Human Adaptation, Not Tech
Career diversification involves leveraging skills from one job, acquiring new ones, then synthesizing and applying them across different roles throughout one’s career. It is a byproduct of digital transformation, a seismic shift in how we live, work, and exchange goods and services. Technology enables digital transformation; human adaptation determines its outcome.
Many in today’s workforce will engage in roles that do not presently exist. How does one prepare for that? There’s a temptation to invoke Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote so often cited by business leadership: “Skate to where the puck will be, not to where it has been.” Gretzky was a unicorn– what do the rest of us do? Short answer: learn to adapt.
For the workforce, adaptation to changing roles and careers involves upskilling, collaboration,humanity, tech and data-literacy, authenticity, a “we” more than “me mindset,” inquisitiveness, agency, initiative, and lifelong learning. Individuals that hone these skills will be well positioned to transition to new roles, sectors and diversified careers.
Enterprise adaptation is a process that begins with an end-to-end, no-holds-barred examination of the enterprise from the customer perspective. What is the enterprise now and what should it be? It then engages in a journey “from here to there.” That process involves, among other things, reimaging the current organizational structure, economic model, existing and prospective product and service lines, delivery model, technologies, data mastery, processes, brand, market differentiation, and the talent required to drive it now and in the future.
The digital journey requires adaptation not only from leadership but also from the workforce. Enterprise talent strategy cannot rely on old paradigms to meet its needs. The workforce, likewise, cannot rely on existing paradigms to meet theirs. Talent is not a static term; its elements are fluid and contextual. That applies equally to the supply and demand sides.
The workforce is directly affected by enterprise challenges and the fluidity of the marketplace. The ability to satisfactorily perform one’s current role no longer assures long-term job security. Leadership and workforce talent must demonstrate resilience, agility, team orientation, curiosity, and moxie to adapt to changes in their current role(s) and functions. They must also be able to transition quickly to new roles demanding different skills when called upon. Data and technology proficiency are important components of that process, but humanity and social intelligence (EQ) are also essential.
Career diversification is not unique to any role, function, sector, or profession.
As existing jobs disappear and new ones emerge, anticipation, adaptation, and agility are key assets. The World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report cited critical thinking, problem solving, emotional intelligence (EQ), creativity, cognitive flexibility, and collaboration as core digital competencies. These qualities are ideally suited for cross-functional collaboration as well as transitioning from linear to diversified careers.
The speed and complexity of business demands teamwork. That’s why social skills—cultural and social awareness, empathy, collaboration, and openness to differing views and perspectives—are so important. Paradoxically, the pervasive use and profound impact of technology elevates-not diminishes- the importance of humanity. The human element of digital transformation– alignment of purpose, a diverse workforce committed to shared core cultural values, concern for others’ well-being, and mutual respect is essential to digital success on the individual and enterprise levels.
The elevation of teamwork and collectivism has become an important criterion for talent evaluation and performance. Talent is no longer assessed solely on individual performance. Digital organizations also consider an individual’s impact on the team, enterprise and customers.Collectivism, collaboration, and cross-functional engagement advance the success of the enterprise as well as its digital talent. Team-orientation is embedded into the culture and mindset of mature digital enterprises, and it is also an important hiring criterion.
Digital business is moving away from the traditional job-based talent management approach to organization design and management models. The focus has shifted from creating job descriptions to the competencies and capabilities required to execute a business strategy. The new paradigm requires collaborative, innovative, purpose and outcome- driven talent that sees its role and function as part of a larger integrated enterprise whole focused on customers.
The corporate move from jobs to competencies and capabilities signals a dramatic change in enterprise talent strategy. Talent is top-of-mind for the C-Suite because of its impact on success. PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey found that 61% of CEOs identify retention of skills and talent as a key issue over the next five years. The ability to acquire and manage talent is the second most cited critical capability for tomorrow’s CEO’s.
The connective tissue linking talent and the enterprise is a shared purpose, mission, and culture. Alignment on these core precepts is reinforced by a long-term mutual investment between enterprise and talent. Richard Branson captured that duality well: “Train employees well enough so they can leave, but treat them will enough so they don’t want to.”
Is the legal industry prepared for career diversification and the adaptation it requires?
Legal Careers Are No Longer Linear and Predicable
Career diversification is new to the legal industry. That’s because generations of lawyers have had insular, predictable, secure, remunerative, and linear careers. Most spent their professional lives practicing law with other lawyers in law firms. Theirs was a world of “lawyers and ‘non-lawyers.’”
Lawyers honed their practice skills across careers, performing a similar role even as they worked their way up the hierarchical ladder. Careers were often spent at one firm. In 1980, for example, 85% of law firm partners had spent their entire careers at the same firm. While that percentage has declined in recent decades, a 2019 National Association for Law Placement (NALP) study found that 59% of firm partners had one-stop careers. When lawyers left a firm, they typically transitioned to another with similar work, structure, and culture. Change and adaptation were not elements of most legal careers.
Legal culture, education, indoctrination, financial success, client acquiescence, and hubris have bred insularity and a false sense of change immunity. Bloomberg Law’s 2021 Legal Operations Survey provides a stunning example of the persistence of legal myopia. Among the 429 law firm and in-house lawyers at various career stages surveyed, 82% believe multidisciplinary teams can consist solely of licensed attorneys. Different practice areas, seniority levels, and firms are a “multidisciplinary” team for them. That is not a mindset well-suited for adapting to change, cross-functional collaboration, and the agility to transition to new roles quickly and seamlessly.
Digital business requires much more from the legal function than generalized legal knowledge. Business acumen, tech and data agility, proactive risk detection and mitigation, process and project management, and other capabilities are now essential components of legal delivery. That is not what law schools teach or what most law firms sell. Law schools and firms are no longer the arbiters of fit-for-purpose legal talent–business is, and it is voting with its coffers. The effects are already visible in the marketplace.
The rapid growth of law companies (a/k/a ALSP’s), legal analytics, the migration of work from firms to corporate legal teams, and the erosion of law firm market share presage more profound market change. Demand is shifting from legacy providers to those with different organizational structures, economic models, technology, data agility, multidisciplinary talent, mindset, teamwork, strategic partners, capital, and customer-centricity. That talent now, increasingly, is being taken in-house. It is not just licensed attorney talent, either.
Many in-house legal teams, for example, now have an equal balance of licensed attorneys and allied legal professionals. That balance may soon be tipped in favor of allied legal professionals as generative AI and other technologies replace “lawyer” jobs with new ones requiring different skillsets.
The divide separating law firms and in-house teams continues to widen. Corporate teams function as business units, collaborating cross-functionally across the enterprise. Their remit extends well beyond traditional legal practice boundaries. The legal function must be more than law if it is to meet the needs of digital business.
Chief legal officers (CLO’s) and general counsel (GC’s) are the prototypes of the digital lawyer. To be successful, they must be leaders, learners-for-life, creative, cognitively agile, emotionally intelligent, and bring out the best in others. They recognize that their role cannot be static in a digital business; they and their teams must be proactive, agile, and poised to respond to challenges and opportunities quickly and collaboratively.
CLO’s are also cultural stewards charged with ensuring that core enterprise values are shared within a diverse group of individuals that form a team. Digital talent, as the foregoing suggests, elevates the importance of humanity, social skills, and team orientation. Those qualities have been undervalued by legacy legal stakeholders.
Growth, Change, Adaptation, And Diverse Careers
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a strong outlook for legal job growth from 2021-2031. The sector is expected to expand by 10%–well above-average among all occupational categories. That’s good news for the industry, but not for those that see growth as a green light for business as usual, job security, and a ten-year reprieve from career change.
The legal sector growth projection is a net number; it does not reflect the number of current legal jobs that will be lost and replaced by new ones. Put another way: don’t expect this job increase to resemble prior spurts where law firm headcount was the primary beneficiary. This time, many legacy legal jobs will be altered or eliminated, replaced by new ones filled by individuals with talent better suited to digital business than the legal guild.
Fewer lawyers will have pure practice careers. Exceptions are lawyers with: (1) superior judgment, experience, expertise (trusted advisors; a small segment of the legal population ); (2) specialized expertise in high-value matters; (3) expertise in high-value new legal areas (e.g. cybersecurity, data privacy and protection, generative artificial intelligence, and related “bleeding edge” technologies and/or new sectors).
Most lawyers will engage in a mix of practice, business of law jobs/gigs, and new positions/areas, many of which will be spun off by technological advances. They will have multiple positions and/or gigs during their careers, underscoring the importance of adaptation. The new, more fluid legal careers will recast long-held notions of what it means to be a lawyer. More importantly, new career roles and paths could restore a sense of purpose for many legal professionals as well as revive public trust and confidence in the legal sector.
Generative AI, data analytics, blockchain, quantum computing, and other technological advances are already impacting legal tasks, jobs, and careers. While clickbait headlines focus on the number of jobs tech will eliminate, a wealth of studies point to their positive effect on the economy and job creation. For example, a recent Goldman Sachs study projects “as AI tools using advances in natural language processing work their way into businesses and society, they could drive a 7% (or almost $7 trillion) increase in global GDP and lift productivity growth by 1.5 percentage points over a 10-year period.”
Productivity growth will mean further erosion of existing jobs accompanied by the creation of new ones. One cannot engage in specific training for functions that do not presently exist; however, individuals and enterprises with digital dexterity will be at the front of the queue to fill them.
What are some of the new legal career opportunities for qualified candidates?
A partial list includes: crisis manager, legal process designer, data analyst, supply chain expert, enterprise risk manager, legal talent design manager, legal process and project management, knowledge management engineer, legal coder/no coder, and legal technology designer. The speed, depth, and breadth of change, especially in technology, will expand this list and open up a legion of new areas and opportunities.[i] The explosive growth of generative AI has already spawned “chat prompters” (data scientists trained to write input prompts that optimize AI responses) , as a new role.
Law is not unique, although most lawyers think it is. The enterprise digital transformation journey is an excellent transition guide for the legal industry. The core skills of digital talent can be applied across a wide range of roles, sectors and career paths-law included. Legal professionals that acquire them will have a wide range of opportunities and be poised to reap the many benefits of a diversified career.
Article originally published in Forbes.
[i] Richard Susskind’s Tomorrow’s Lawyers, (updated Third Edition) provides an insightful, engaging, and highly-recommended analysis of how lawyers and legal professionals will function in the coming years.