Commercial awareness coupled with an understanding of the regional, national and global economy and its political context are key to a law graduate ensuring they are employable.
So said Scott Cowan, chief executive of the Africa Professional Services Group (incorporating Africa Legal), in his address to the University of Nigeria Students’ Bar Association “Legal Employability Summit 5.0” which took place on Friday.
The theme of the virtual indaba was “The 360 Bar: The Diverse Faces of Legal Practice”.
“Clients expect lawyers to understand their business and keep an eye on their numbers and strategic opportunities. Legal help is needed at every stage of setting up a business, and lawyers with sound business sense and a knowledge of how markets and economies function gain a competitive edge,” he said.
Answering the question, “What skills make a law graduate employable?”, Scott said it started with commercial and technological awareness.
“In today’s tech-driven world, it is imperative to know how tech products and a tech company function. A foot in the startup/app ecosystem ensures business growth.”
He used the example of Silicon-valley boutique law firm Atrium which specialised in using tech to serve startups’s legal needs.
“Lawyers can also create tech products that help automate their processes by using coding tools such as chatbots,” he said.
Soft skills were also important for a lawyer to build their reputation – which had to be on a foundation of trust.
“Lawyers work with a spectrum of people, from members of the judiciary to colleagues in their own firms. At all times, they need to be good team players, personable and courteous, even under stress.”
Personal brand building had also become an important part of professional development.
“Crafting a good online persona and producing regular, relevant content distinguishes a lawyer as a thought leader. For example, it’s especially important that lawyers have strong profiles on law-specific sites such as Avvo or Martindale.”
Scott said that according to the ABA Tech Report, 80% of lawyers in firms of 500+ who maintained a legal blog report getting clients as a result of this activity.
Networking at professional and client events developed enduring relationships and enabled the lawyer to gain new connections and outshine the competition, he added.
The ability to do good research and be creative were also key.
“Skills such as identifying relevant information from a mass of data, distilling it accurately and precisely, and communicating it to the client, are all vital for an attorney.
At the same time out-of-the-box thinking gave a lawyer the competitive edge. “It takes a keen and analytical mind to think of every eventuality in a given scenario and prepare for all of them.”
One of the most important attributes that could propel a new lawyer to success was an entrepreneurial spirit and business skills, Scott said.
“Whether they work at a law firm or have their own, lawyers need to understand that both are businesses. This means meeting deadlines, keeping costs low, managing multiple projects and stakeholders, and handling information confidentially. An understanding of how the business operates and remains profitable helps them gain a much-needed perspective and enables them to think and act like entrepreneurs.”
Scott said one of the biggest things that had struck him about the Nigerian legal market was the entrepreneurial mindset of the younger generation.
“Be persistent, humble, determined, passionate and trustworthy!” he said.
“As you head into your legal careers, opportunities with clients will arise and that's when you can marry the two - legal and business – you will make a difference.”
To join Africa Legal's mailing list please click here