Lawyers must show adaptability in a world full of change
Career development seminars aimed at lawyers are forever beating the drum for the need to change and move with the times. It seems that “versatility” and “adaptability” are the new legal watchwords (apparently ‘commercial awareness’ alone doesn’t cut it any longer).
Chief amongst the areas in which they need to show this adaptability is how they manage information. Lawyers need to competently juggle an ever-increasing array of materials and sources and across a wide range of formats. Of course, technology can be both a blessing and a curse in this regard. (Isn’t it always?).
Lawyers need to be conversant with electronic and conventional book and paper sources and they cannot afford to ignore one format over another. It’s clear that offices are slowly (very slowly in some cases) moving away from their reliance on paper, but the realisation of the ‘paperless office’ is still a frightfully long way off.
Despite the lack of instantaneous ‘inline search’, conventional book sources still play a vital role in legal practice and legal research. Sometimes, browsing or thumbing through a volume can help you get the ‘feel’ of an unfamiliar area of law and help you focus in on appropriate keywords that can then be used in an electronic search. After all, searching electronically only ever works efficiently when you’ve identified the right words to search for!
We’ve recently made a conscious effort to vastly reduce the amount we print. It’s interesting that the transition was far less painful than people feared and to see how readily people adopted and accepted it. Now we just need to focus on getting employers to recycle more waste besides paper.
While I’m on the subject, why on earth do some law firms insist on having their air conditioning cranked up to such a high level that staff need to sit their shivering with their jackets buttoned-up? Practising law doesn’t absolve people from the need to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
But I digress. For what it’s worth, academia still over-emphasises traditional paper sources which doesn’t exactly help students when they get into practice. The Legal Practice Course is particularly bad in this regard. For instance, it still assumes firms opt to use hard copies of lengthy reference materials over electronic versions. In my experience at least, that’s utter nonsense.
No matter how unshakable you are on using conventional paper sources, when you’re dealing with lengthy pieces of legislation, for example, it simply doesn’t make any sense to use the paper version. Have you seen the full size of the Companies Act 2006 recently? Why on earth are we forcing students to lump around hard copies? Heck, they’ll be brining personal injury claims for lumbar and shoulder injuries before we know it!
We’re in quite an interesting, transitional phase with not just vast electronic databases of cases and legislation but electronic versions of conventional academic law books and practitioner texts. When you combine that with the burgeoning popularity of ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) access to this content across a range of devices such as e-readers, tablets and smartphones is not just possible, but happening. Yes, many law firms still regard BYOD with about as much relish as pro bono work, but there are some avant-garde players out there.
As this transition continues, lawyers must stay on their toes and continue to evolve and adapt to the changing environment of information sources. While it’s vital they embrace the benefits of modern technology, younger lawyers in particular must be careful not to ignore traditional sources or downplay their importance.