New roles emerge in a changing legal jobs sector
Technology forcing broad change, introducing less traditional job opportunities
The pervasiveness of technology has forced the structure of the business of law to change, introducing a much wider scope of employment opportunities and opening the door to individuals coming to the sector as a second career. File photograph: iStockPhoto
Technological advances have changed the shape of law and legal proceedings over the past two decades, resulting in a plethora of new roles, fresh approaches to the structure of work, and the emergence of new forms of training and study.
“I joined the firm in 1998 and have been a partner for 14 years,” says Karen Harty of McCann FitzGerald, whose principal area of practice is complex commercial disputes, “and contrasting from when I started out to now, the business is unrecognisable because you have this whole spectrum of expertise across the firm that is different from pure law.
“When I think back to when I started in this role it was largely made up of lawyers and support staff – people who might be working in accounts or personnel departments. Either that or you were a secretary to one of the lawyers in the business,” Harty says.
The pervasiveness of technology has forced the structure of the business to change, introducing a much wider scope of employment opportunities within law and opening the door to individuals coming to the sector as a second career. “We used to recruit pure law people,” says Harty, “so we would be looking only at people with a degree in law, or law and business. Now we are seeing a much broader range of background, people coming with history degrees or science degrees – we recently recruited someone who had been a midwife and retrained.”
It is a trend that is echoed across many law firms, suggests Joe O’Sullivan, client technology director at A&L Goodbody. “What we are seeing now is the development of positions like client technology lawyers, which is a role that combines both the technology background with legal skills. So that is new to the industry and new to the sector, and it allows us to create better offerings.
“We are also are bringing in new roles to the firm like business analysts, project managers, and solution administrators, which will complement the existing legal service teams to give an overall better experience to the client.
Technology has also changed the way the business of law is done on a pragmatic level, suggests Harty, through a rise in remote working and contract work. “We are seeing a big increase in agile working,” she says. “I am a full-time equity partner with four children, so my ability to be in different places and still working is a huge bonus for me. That flexibility with remote working is something you see through the whole organisation.
“We have a number of people who are contractors within our division who come in on a project-by-project basis. We also have a large number of permanent staff as well. I think the opportunities for people to have a more flexible working arrangement have definitely increased.”
Paths to training in new roles and positions are also emerging within the sector, and also through graduate programmes. “We spend a lot of time recruiting graduates from the legal space,” says O’Sullivan, “but we are also looking for graduates in the non-legal space. We have courses internally within the firm to train these graduates and bring them up to speed on legal capabilities, and also strategy and technology capabilities.
“In conjunction with UCD Smurfit School of Business and Sutherland School of Law, we have an MSc programme which we bring our trainees through. And from day one they are involved in that, and modules within that include technology awareness and the ability to adopt technology as part of their business service delivery.”
Other specialised courses covering the intersection between law and technology are beginning to appear across universities this year. This spring sees the launch of a new University of Limerick course, in conjunction with McCann FitzGerald and AI software provider Neota Logic, where students will learn how to design, build and test digital legal solutions using a bespoke platform.
“We are seeing huge interest on campuses around this,” adds Harty. “Recruitment is a huge priority for us, we want to get the best people – and certainly whenever you do interviews for traineeship, our innovative approach to legal services is one of the things we are always asked about.”