Ahead of her panel session at the Business Leadership Summit, professor Claire McGourlay from The University of Manchester speaks to The Lawyer about better preparing graduates for the new world of law and what the legal roles of the future will be.
Is the education that graduates are receiving equipping them for the profession in practice?
It is to a degree, however the more the sector demands a wider range of skills from graduates the less likely this will remain the case. At The University of Manchester Law School, we have already changed and adapted our curriculum to equip our students with the skills they need for the constantly moving target of professional practice. We work with firms through the Manchester Legal Tech initiative to ensure that what we are doing is the right approach and we are teaching our students the skills that they need.
How do you think flexible working and a work/home life balance will affect the traditional routes to partnership?
Entrants to the profession now place more emphasis on the importance of work/home life balance and are less willing to sacrifice that balance in pursuit of partnership. This causes talent drain but smart firms are and will (I hope) adapt to retain/attract talent.
Do you think flexible working has the ability to create office-free law firms in years to come?
Yes- office free law firms already exist. Although it is difficult for law firms to transition from office to office/free, the cloud enables new law firms (and alternative legal service providers) to set up and operate efficiently without the need for office facilities. It also means that my students when they graduate can live in areas that they can afford to live in!
How do you think the next generation of lawyers will transform law firms?
The courses we have designed (undergraduate and postgraduate) and the year long skills course we are designing for our students to produce an adaptable and flexible workforce shows the interest that students have in the future changes and developments in law firms. The production of this adaptable and flexible workforce that is also in tune with emerging technology will change the dynamics of law firms. Whether it will be emerging roles or shifting processes, the next generation of lawyers will be freethinking.
What do you think the legal roles of the future will be?
Already there is a changing dynamic within the legal market and I am constantly being told this by the firms I talk to and engage with. The emergence of legal engineers, means that a whole new role surrounding the technological side of the law has already seen investment. This year, three of my students who did the Law Tech and Access to Justice module have started work as Trainee Legal Engineers with SYKE Law. However, as this may triage certain aspects of legal work, the empathetic requirements and humanistic characteristics of practice may be reinforced as legal issues are given more personal time in application. Moving forwards, it may be that there could even be professional legal app builders. It is safe to say technology is creating an exciting shift in the dynamics of law.
What has been the highlight of your career?
The highlight of my career was being nominated by students for the OUP Law Teacher of the Year Award and then subsequently being shortlisted. It meant so much to me as it was a nomination by the students.