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Why City law firms need more STEM graduates

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Proficiency with data to become ever more important for junior lawyers, says Reed Smith Innovation Manager Alex Smith

As law firms move to more digital ways of delivering legal services there has been a shift in the skills and backgrounds of the lawyers those firms are looking to hire. This is also driven by the digitisation of most of the industries we serve — it’s not just tech companies that use tech: financial services is moving to a digital platform, shipping and infrastructure industries are talking about blockchain, entertainment and media is now a streaming and personalised digital experience. Indeed, every company is now a media and digital company!

Even advising clients these days is more than a ‘law as art form’ approach in many industries and the more industries move to a digital-first platform, the more this will accelerate. Not being proficient in data, data analysis, forensic use of trends and core technical basics will soon be a barrier to the practice of law. But why, when we poll future graduates, are there so few from the backgrounds that should support these needs and skills? Graduates from backgrounds like maths, sciences and engineering don’t seem to be coming into legal services outside of the obvious areas of IT law and more technical areas of practice.

Apply to attend Reed Smith's STEM Student Legal Innovation Workshop on Tuesday 5 December

To explain why STEM students are going to be in more demand, there are two drivers of change in and diversity of skills: (1) the legal advisory role and (2) emerging roles in law firms.

Traditionally, technology is a separate area of law, often called upon by other practice groups but still seen as a specialist area of advice. However, as entire industries are now moving to digital platforms and the internet of things for the delivery of services, all practice and sector groups need to understand, unravel and advise on the technology and data that underpin these industries. The fundamentals of these areas remain the same but they now have a digital element, and the need to understand data flows, system data and how algorithms drive businesses will increase, as will expertise in the physical technologies that these services depend on (for example, the actual drones that will deliver our shopping soon or the computer chips we’ll soon be wearing or having injected!).

At the same time, law firms are evolving and starting to drive a multi-disciplinary approach to the way they serve their clients, and to the way they run themselves. The evolution of automation and knowledge, as well as the goals of data-driven professionals analysing data, means there are emerging roles, and while legal knowledge will still be useful, skills like engineering, computing, algorithmic thinking, maths and statistics are going to be increasingly highly valued.

Law can be measured and many of its ‘parts’ can be expressed using systems thinking, logic and processes. The measurement of law — both law as a business and law in business — will be a driving theme of the next few years. Roles such as legal knowledge and legal process engineers already exist and are growing in number; data analytics and data science positions will be next. We also need to tie the drive for more commercial awareness to the ability to be analytical through data — our client businesses are increasingly becoming data driven and, of course, new emerging business are often data driven from the start.

At Reed Smith we’re having to paint this picture of the future to attract STEM students into the profession and into the emerging roles in the industry. Though early in the process, numbers of STEM students at Reed Smith are increasing, growing by 12% in 2017. Painting a picture of the value of STEM students and the value they bring will continue to increase this number.

There will be no lack of opportunities for future trainees to utilise their skills when they join Reed Smith, including emerging innovation programmes, such as the summer month-long process involving two of our future trainees looking at a legal area around digital products and data, and at how we could deliver new legal services digitally through understanding technology, product development and the data such services could generate. The firm has already filled the next two of these future trainee positions for the summer of next year and is looking at other opportunities for existing and future trainees, and emerging roles, especially within our practice innovation team of legal engineers and automators, and our data science/AI team.

Law is increasingly redressing the law as art vs law as science imbalance through attracting the right people and showing why STEM skills will be so valued in the near future.

Alex Smith will be leading a workshop for STEM students interested in becoming lawyers in Reed Smith’s Innovation Hub on Tuesday 5 December. Apply to attend.

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