The legal profession is continually evolving. Clients and law firms are increasingly developing an attitude of ‘people first, and lawyers second’. In such a competitive environment, a lawyer’s legal expertise and academic ability are givens. It is the softer skills, such as being adaptable, building relationships, and being open-minded, that make a good lawyer stand out.
Dan Kayne, general counsel for National Rail and the founder of the ‘O-Shaped Lawyer’, has conducted thorough research into what over 350 companies are looking for from their lawyers. Through the research, the O-Shaped Lawyer programme has determined that an excellent lawyer is optimistic, takes ownership of their work, and remains open-minded, opportunistic, and original.
But what does an ‘O-shaped lawyer’ mean for junior lawyers? Whether you are an LPC student, solicitor apprentice, trainee solicitor or 0-5 PQE, what can you do to develop and show your potential to be the well-rounded lawyer that law firms and clients are vying for?
Businesses are always looking to progress, improve and grow. A great lawyer has a forward-thinking attitude to match. Faced with hurdles, an O-shaped lawyer embraces the challenge and finds a great solution to keep the client on track. Rather than find problems, they discover ways to solve them.
A junior lawyer can demonstrate this quality by highlighting their problem-solving skills and can-do attitude. When tasked with a challenge, having a positive attitude when seeking a solution will be valuable to any law firm.
Think about a time you faced a challenge and reflect on your mindset. Think about how you possessed the drive and determination to overcome the challenge and ensure you achieved your goal. Perhaps you faced budgeting issues on an event or encountered several setbacks in your studies. Demonstrating such willingness to tackle problems head-on demonstrates your optimism – a key sign that you can provide the valuable solutions that clients need to achieve their own ambitions.
O-shaped lawyers take responsibility for their work and career. They proactively seek out opportunities and ways to improve. Doing so often means lawyers step outside their comfort zone, learning about new laws and developments in their chosen field and determining their impact on a client’s business.
Junior lawyers are equally responsible for their own development. Taking part in extracurricular activities, such as volunteering or sport, demonstrates an ability and desire to continually learn and grow. Equally, challenging yourself to try something new in work or in your hobbies highlights a junior lawyer’s potential to take ownership of their development and look for ways to improve.
Open-minded, opportunistic and original
An O-shaped lawyer remains open-minded. They are open to new ways of thinking and doing. This can mean taking on constructive feedback positively, enabling them to grow. It also means having open conversations. As a junior lawyer, continually seeking feedback and being a listening ear to colleagues will stand out.
Lawyers are naturally risk-averse, but they can still be opportunistic. An O-shaped junior lawyer actively involves themselves in new initiatives and networking. Whether you are studying or working, consider joining societies or pro bono projects that you are passionate about. The opportunities could help round out your skillset.
Originality is key too. O-shaped lawyers spot ways to improve and enhance processes to handle challenges more effectively and efficiently. As a junior lawyer, it can often be difficult to feel as if you can change the status quo. However, demonstrating original thinking can take many forms – for example, taking control of your own workload or study schedule and creating a bespoke system that helps you perform to the best of your ability.
The legal industry is evolving to create a stream of well-rounded lawyers who are ready to meet the specific needs of their clients. With the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination, law firms and their clients are focusing on developing skills and attitudes, such as collaboration, continuous learning and simplifying complexity in their junior lawyers. Irrespective of what stage you are at, you can be future-ready by continually evolving your skills and attitude to become a well-rounded lawyer.
Callum Reed is a paralegal in the property team at Wiggin, London, and an executive member of the Law Society’s Junior Lawyers Division