The New Skills Needed to Make Partner

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In the legal industry, you often spend the first few years learning practical skills before realising there’s a whole other side to your continued professional success that you need to focus on: business development.

There’s a misconception that the practice of law only requires you to know about the law — identifying the legal principles, applying them appropriately to your facts, and the tactics best suited to individual cases. 

However, to succeed in the business of law and make partner, lawyers need to have the skills to win work, lead and manage a team, and be great with clients.  Keeping all those skills sharp means engaging in continued training, whether that be as part of continued competence training to provide better technical service for client’s legal needs or independent study to address soft skills. 

Here, I’ll focus on how industry knowledge, technical prowess, and innovation in services can help younger associates build business.

Learning outside the law 

The last few years have shown us how fast the business environment can change, and how the legal industry will need to continue to rapidly evolve to meet those changes. Junior lawyers need to have their fingers on the pulse of their own industry as well as those of their clients, in order to match growing expectations for legal professionals. 

A recent survey found that while delivering quality advice is table stakes, factors such as offering commercially focused, strategic, and practical advice are far more likely to lead corporate clients in the UK to notice an associate. An associate interested in cultivating a long-term relationship with a client that may eventually turn into part of their own book of business may therefore want to invest time into learning about the key challenges facing their largest industries and how they can provide commercially strategic services to those clients.

Similarly, with the growing evidence that corporate clients value advice that speaks to the business drivers sitting underneath the legal issue, associates can attempt an embedded work opportunity in the industry they’re looking to build a business in (which not only gives you a great understanding of your client’s business but also networking and client development opportunities). If this opportunity isn’t possible, associates can invest in periodicals, industry groups, or conferences related to the industries in which they hope to develop or expand their client base. 

The tech difference

A legal professional today also needs to understand what makes their firm’s offerings stand out from the crowd. Proving to your clients that you know what you’re talking about, being conversant in technology, and maximising time to value and cost of delivery for clients becomes more critical the more you move up the path to partner and beyond.

With 89% of UK corporate clients looking for their law firms to use technology in more innovative ways, are there technical certifications or other education that could help an associate provide advice to a corporate client that would show their commercial and strategic acumen? Can an associate design an edisclosure system for their case that would build long-term trust and credibility with a client while keeping costs reasonable and employing strategic thinking? Certainly. 

DISCO’s AI-powered edisclosure platform speeds time to evidence with high accuracy and greater efficiency — one that allows associates to think creatively to achieve their goals. Associates can capitalize on their day-to-day work on cases to explore knowledge base content to increase their own proficiency with the DISCO platform as well as develop edisclosure expertise. These skills enable junior associates the ability to think strategically about how to structure disclosure and document review to improve outcomes while using client resources in commercially reasonable ways. 

Rethinking services

When it comes to winning work and being great with clients, lawyers need to pay particular attention to the changing expectations of how they’ll provide their services. Over the last few decades, clients have become increasingly savvy and, with that, demanding. 

With the rise of corporations turning to alternative legal services providers for their disclosure projects, junior attorneys can leverage DISCO Review and DISCO’s consultants. These provide on-demand experts and services enabling cutting-edge alternatives to the standard edisclosure workflows that once again let associates show their commercial and strategic thinking — this time not just to the client but also the firm.

How to learn

There are software tools, technical certifications, and vendor arrangements that can help associates gain the soft skills necessary to learn the business of the law, if the associates know to look for them and can get business buy-in from their firms. The key is for junior lawyers to do their research and proactively work with their employer to identify the interests of corporate clients, their business needs, as well as the desires of their long-term partners as part of their continued competence work. With the increasing demands on junior lawyers’ time to perform billable work, presenting the long-term business benefits for the firm and getting buy-in on counting these education efforts toward firm requirements is an important step for the mental health of rising senior attorneys.

Educating yourself, staying up to date with industry issues, participating in the market conversations, and, crucially, seeking certifications that enable you to build business knowledge will all be key to not just your survival, but also your ability to thrive. 

Find out more about how you can keep learning new skills as you advance your legal career with DISCO University.

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Philip Demetriou

Philip Demetriou is Senior Director of UK and European Sales at DISCO. With more than 20 years of international edisclosure experience working for KPMG, Epiq, and Consilio, he has an extensive knowledge of how law firms and legal departments can embrace the benefits of cloud-based solutions to transform their businesses.