Legal skills – transferable or not ?

We are pleased to welcome Evolved Legal, who have written this post on the transferability of legal skills against the backdrop of change in the legal market.

The legal market is in flux and times have never been harder in living memory for many experienced and qualified lawyers, let alone the thousands of wannabe lawyers who are entrenched in paralegal no-man’s land.

Strangely enough, from the firms we talk to, two very different sectors of the legal market are particularly struggling at the moment, with no obvious improvement likely in the near future. We are talking about commercial lawyers in the top law firms and personal injury lawyers, who make up a sizeable number of all qualifies solicitors given that personal injury claims have been booming for many years, but are about to be dramatically curtailed by the Jackson reforms.

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So, the question is, is it feasible or practical for lawyers in these 2 areas to change to practicing different areas of law, and should law firms looking for new lawyers be receptive to this.

Dealing firstly with personal injury lawyers, many think that they are at the lowbrow end of the qualified lawyer spectrum. Certainly, it doesn’t generally require a highly skilled solicitor to deal with the volume whiplash claims. However, in many instances, there are some fantastic injury solicitors out there who deal with complex claims and bring the following skills to the table :-

  1. Often able to juggle, manage and run a significant caseload
  2. Excellent negotiating and arbitration skills, in dealing with often stubborn, recalcitrant opponents
  3. Wide ranging legal knowledge – particularly employers liability claims can involve a lot of different areas of legislation
  4. Good business acumen – personal injury lawyers seem to have understood and embraced the transition from law as a profession to more of a business better than almost any other legal niche

So, which areas best lend themselves to a PI lawyer changing practice area ?

The obvious areas in our view would be employment law, since there is already often a crossover between PI claims and employment law, general litigation and also perhaps conveyancing, where many of the same skills are needed, in terms of it being consumer facing, organisational and case management skills are to the fore, and negotiation and a pro active approach are called for.

What about commercial lawyers ?

Many commercial solicitors in the top firms have historically been considered the cream of the crop but there simply aren’t the same number of deals out there any more.

What perhaps separates out corporate and commercial lawyers in terms of different skills is the requirement for more creative legal drafting than in other practice areas. Whereas in some areas of law it is not necessary to craft lots of legal clauses when it comes to commercial documents and particularly given the fairly light statutory regulations in many areas, commercial lawyers do often need to be able to draft complex commercial contracts sometimes without the benefit of precedents. Most commercial lawyers will work on a smaller number of cases than in other areas of law and to that extent, they are perhaps more analogous to barristers than most other practice areas. It is frankly and unfortunately a little harder to easily foresee obvious transferable skills for commercial lawyers who might be willing to consider changing, even though many are undoubtedly fantastic technical lawyers.

On the subject of whether firms who are lucky enough to be expanding should consider lawyers who have specialized in other areas, our own view is that the answer should be a resounding yes.

One of the unfortunate aspects of the general misunderstanding of the value of lawyers by clients is an underestimation of the value of experience. In any job, experience is important, but with law it is crucial. It generally does take a good few years following qualification for a lawyer to really reach the top of his or her game, generally by seeing, understanding and experiencing how law works in practice. That experience, such as negotiating skills, client management, a nous for understanding dangers, tactics and unforeseen consequences is invaluable for clients whether they know it or not. Those skills are generally transferable in full and a lawyer who was, for example, a Personal Injury lawyer, would be likely to pick up and run with conveyancing far faster than a trainee or newly qualified solicitor.

The above simply represent our views – you may well disagree. If so, why not comment ?

This post courtesy of Evolved Legal, legal marketers who work with a range of clients including Blackhawk Investigations and Darlingtons Solicitors.

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