LSJ November 2019

The skills lawyers need are evolving as our world grows more technical. So legal education must also change, says GEORGE WILLIAMS . Anewera for education

George Williams is Dean of Law at the University of New South Wales

W hen I became Dean of UNSW Law in 2016, I knew I had a lot to learn. I had spent time in practice at a large commercial law rm, but that was a long time ago. Even though I have practised in the years since as a part-time barrister, this did not prepare me for the challenges facing the profession. My response was a listening tour involving more than 100 meetings in Australia and overseas with large and small rms, non-government organisa- tions, government agencies, banks and other employers that take on law grad- uates. I asked leaders across the sector their thoughts on the future, and what they were looking for in their employees now and over the next ve years. I was surprised at the consistency and force of what I heard. I was told time and time again by a diverse range of organ- isations that change was coming, and that for many this had already arrived. ey said the best lawyers would need a di erent outlook and set of skills. Most often, I was told that future

lawyers would need to sharpen their digital skills. ey would need to operate sophisticated, expert systems and be critical users of these systems. A great lawyer would know which system to use, and how to interpret the results in a way that served the best interests of their cli- ents. ey would need to know when to ignore the system in favour of human intuition and a more creative response. Technology was only part of the picture. People also spoke of lawyers needing project management skills and commercial acumen, and an out- look that embraced innovation, as well as resilience to change. Lawyers would more often need to work in multidis- ciplinary teams, and to take a holistic approach to solving client problems. It became apparent that educators were not doing enough to prepare grad- uates for these challenges. Our programs needed to adapt in line with the profes- sion to make sure we give graduates the best chance of success. UNSW Law has spent years respond- ing to this feedback. It has been reinforced by further annual discussions

with law rms and other organisations. ese meetings have demonstrated the pace of change has exceeded the expectations of many lawyers. Our response at UNSW Law has been to rework our curriculum. Tech- nology has been embedded in how we teach, and in our course content, so stu- dents are exposed to new technologies and the challenges and opportunities this poses at key points throughout their degree. Cutting-edge electives, such as internships and a course on designing apps to provide legal advice, also provide enhanced opportunities for learning. We have also entered into major partnerships that permit us to sharpen our research focus. is includes a key venture with the Law Society of NSW to continue the work of its Future of Law and Innovation in the Profes- sion (FLIP) Commission of Inquiry. Our joint FlipStream project, led by Professor Michael Legg, is undertak- ing world leading research about how technology is impacting the profession, and the opportunities this is creating for legal practitioners.

Photography: iStockphoto LP


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