Shoosmiths sponsored the recent CAN DO Scotland Innovation Summit in Glasgow. Amid discussions about the legal considerations for tech SMEs and the rise of artificial intelligence, delegates had a laser-like focus on innovation.
The summit, and the natural desire to innovate, whether motivated by a business need to secure competitive advantage or to help alleviate the climate crisis, has crystallised my thinking of how rapidly new ideas are shaping our world.
In a few decades smart mobile devices have transformed how we manage and consume personal communications – and how businesses use such electronic data. Robots, electric cars, hydrogen-fuelled buses and a Scottish spaceport are not science fiction. We are also seeing the transformation of our city landscapes, including plans for more sustainable energy systems to heat our homes.
This rapid pace of ongoing technological development, influenced too by society’s need to adapt after the Covid-19 pandemic and because of the climate crisis, has shifted the dial inexorably in terms of the face of our professional places of work. A new set of skills is required to thrive in the legal environment of today – and tomorrow.
Tech and the office
Tech is omnipresent in our professional lives with obvious changes in our office environments. Post pandemic, for many businesses including Shoosmiths, hybrid or ‘agile’ working has become the norm. Once as lawyers we created a huge paper trail documenting transactions and agreements. This is now a virtual paper mountain, digitised and stored in the cloud.
However our brains also need to adapt quickly. The growth and speed of digitisation, including the use of Teams to conduct virtual meetings, means we must be adept at prioritising, multi-tasking and managing ever-tighter timeframes.
Fortunately, smart tech including artificial intelligence is increasingly able to assist legal professionals, maximising efficiencies and aiding our ability to manage and execute tasks for clients. At Shoosmiths, our Cia® AI contract review tool, which is powered by ThoughtRiver, can review a contract in the time it takes to make a cup of tea!
Culture and the physical office
I am fortunate that I am part of a law firm serving UK and international clients where the cultural default is collaborative and to invest heavily in new ways of doing things. As with our people and our client base, innovation and technology are valued highly.
Our CEO David Jackson recently co-authored a book – Legal Practice in the Digital Age. It underlines why it is imperative to marry the human skills of lawyers with innovative technology to deliver a smarter, faster and better service to clients. In this ever-changing world, lawyers who combine technology with their emotional intelligence (EQ) will be the ones to thrive.
Intertwined with this is recognising how, as responsible organisations, the very fabric of our physical working spaces must reflect our culture and values. I am proud that in Scotland’s capital city, our new modern office space at Haymarket Edinburgh is designed to meet the needs of the hybrid-working model. It is ideal for collaborative working and socialisation.
Moreover, the environmental specification of the office space complements Shoosmiths’ firm-wide Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals. This includes being signed up to the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI) as we progress towards our net-zero aspirations.
I believe embedding environmental values in our culture and ESG is expected by employees and clients. Indeed, our client Extreme E (the international off-road racing series) is at the forefront of sustainable global motorsport. With its partners, Extreme E is pioneering the development of hydrogen motorsport and at Shoosmiths we are aligned with its vision for sustainability.
Skills and talented people
People are at the heart of any organisation, and as a firm Shoosmiths is renowned for excellent service, incisive thinking and the ability of our inter-disciplinary teams to focus on what matters to deliver client results. We are proud of the values embedded in our culture, including a company-wide commitment to inclusion and diversity.
We have the culture, environment and in-office technology to work smarter and to better deliver best practice for our clients. These are factors that also attract talented lawyers to our firm. The challenge is to ensure existing and future lawyers are equipped with the ever-evolving technology-driven skillsets that are shaping our legal world.
Whether working on a real-estate transaction, a tech sector deal or advising on an energy and infrastructure project, every lawyer must feel valued and nurtured. That’s key to retaining your hard-working, talented teams – and recruiting new lawyers and professionals at every level.
Indeed, as a business with an ambitious growth strategy in Scotland across key markets and sectors, we are currently seeking highly skilled and experienced partners across IT and technology, energy and infrastructure, corporate and real estate.
In a firm culture that is innovative and tech-enabled and with clients increasingly interconnected with tech, these new partners (and others who join Shoosmiths) need to be client-centric, technically astute and have an innovative mindset.
To enhance further our talent pipeline, Shoosmiths has established a new strengths-based assessment for future trainees. This identifies core strengths and cognitive ability that form the basis of what a highly successful legal advisor looks like at the firm. This exercise downplays previous experience, reducing bias and supporting our social mobility ambitions.
Potential new trainees may also be receptive to our client-base, environmental values and the opportunity our new offices provide to socialise and collaborate. In Scotland, 50 per cent of our partners are female and Shoosmiths is committed to projects such as spHERe. This forum addresses disparities between female and male entrepreneurs and supports female founders and venture capitalists within the venture capital space.
Mentoring and leadership
At the other end of the spectrum are highly skilled senior lawyers who often have decades of client-facing experience, are adept at negotiation and possess an in-depth understanding of how a legal point presents an opportunity or issue for the client. At Shoosmiths, many of these lawyers benefit from cutting-edge leadership programmes and impart their knowledge as mentors in mentoring and reciprocal mentoring programmes. This includes an inclusion workshop for partners that provides intelligence on their own leadership style.
As any business will recognise, this is all crucial to maintain a motivated workforce and a pipeline of relevant skills for succession planning.
At a time when hybrid or agile working is now the norm, mentors provide invaluable internal guidance and advice on hard points of law and on vital, softer skills such as how to conduct external meetings and effectively negotiate with parties for the benefit of clients.
At Shoosmiths we go to extraordinary lengths, utilising our human resource and many forms of technology, including AI, to understand our core sectors and to maximise client value.
With the legal and business landscapes evolving constantly, the challenge is to ensure legal teams are as future-proofed with skills and knowledge as much as possible. It helps if you understand what types of skills your clients value.
Kat Stephens, chief legal officer at Extreme E, commented: “It’s all about understanding the context that the client is working in so that legal advice can be tailored to the commercial realities of the business. For example, if the client needs to capture momentum, then offering advice and structures that protect the business but reduce friction is more important than providing technically perfect and detailed advice.
“Understanding the personalities across the leadership team and culture of the company can also be an advantage, to appreciate the parameters in which the general council or legal team is operating.”
I believe clients will always value interaction and advice with personable lawyers who have high levels of emotional intelligence but are also technically and technologically skilled. It is incumbent on the lawyers of today and tomorrow to get to grips with advancements and to be intellectually curious enough to want to be at the forefront of this new tech revolution. l
Alison Gilson is a corporate partner and head of the Edinburgh office at Shoosmiths.
Partner content in association with Shoosmiths.