A team of lawyers and technologists from Ashurst’s NewLaw arm is set to take on teaching duties as part of a module launched by the firm with the University of Stirling in Scotland.
The firm is working with the university on a strategic partnership aimed at cultivating talent that will be able to populate the increasing amount of tech and innovation roles opening across law firms.
The firm’s digital and alternative legal services arm Ashurst Advance has put together a NewLaw Programme to fill the students’ curriculum with skills that they believe will be in high demand in coming years.
Ashurst Advance is the firm’s NewLaw tentpole, including everything from legal project management to best delivery and flexible working. It also houses a unit, led by partner Tara Waters, which relies on a mixture of technologists and lawyers to turn legal advice into scalable products.
The programme is intended for Law BA and LLB students attending the university’s law school and completing its commercial awareness module during this academic year. The partnership builds on years of collaboration between the firm and the university. In 2019, the firm launched a ‘pathway programme’ that included a six-month secondment for final-year students that could culminate in junior roles as legal analysts and technologists. In addition, the firm’s lawyers and innovation professionals often participate as guest speakers to talk about the work of Ashurst Advance.
“We wanted to do something different when it comes to creating a pipeline of talent and engaging students. We had to provide something that could help grow their commercial instinct and inspire them to think differently,” Carolyn O’Connor, HR manager for national early careers programs at the firm, told The Lawyer.
The programme, which will run debut during the spring semester, will include a series of lectures, workshops and presentations hosted by lawyers from various divisions of Advance. Names featured in the programme include head of alternative resourcing Iain Brown; head of the digital products arm Tara Waters; legal transformation programme lead Esther Woo; and head of legal project management Kate Basset.
The workshops will run for over five sessions for a six-week period, with a mini-hackathon at the end in which students will be tasked with developing a solution by applying the skills learned during the programme.
During the programme, the students will learn new skills around technology, project management and process improvement, with a strong focus on the business of alternative offerings. “It is about recognising a rapidly changing legal sector and asking ourselves how to better prepare students for a wider range of opportunities,” Mike Polson, head of the firm’s Glasgow office and leader of the delivery arm of Advance, explained when talking about the content of the programme. “We realised that there was a disconnect in the awareness of what was happening in the legal market alongside typical law, so we are trying to fill that,” he added.
The programme will be complemented by work experience placements that will vary each year depending on the number of students on the course; the firm is aiming to take 10 students each year on average.
It is also part of an effort from the university to ensure it can equip its students for a different business world. “We are a relatively new law school, having launched in 2005,” Tikus Little, senior lecturer in law at the University of Stirling, told The Lawyer. “Early on the school always wanted to be able to shape its curriculum so it could be an exciting journey. We wanted to ensure students were gaining employability skills.”
She added that, since the financial crash in 2008, commercial nous including client relationship, billing, marketing and new offerings have all become embedded in the institution’s core programmes. “It is part of the reason why we launched the commercial awareness course, which is now in its seventh year.
Ashurst is not alone in trying to ensure academia doesn’t lag behind when it comes to burgeoning new areas of business in the legal world. Back in 2018, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer teamed up with the University of Manchester’s law school and AI company Neota Logic to offer a course on legal technology. It focused on the delivery of legal services, through learning how to build tech-based applications that will help non-profit organisations gain access to justice.
Freshfields previously collaborated with the University of Manchester to increase awareness of digital tech among future lawyers and innovators.