Dear Future Lawyer

Those of my generation that finished school in the mid-nineties and college in the late nineties or early 2000s love to talk about how ‘transitional’ we were. When we finished school, computers meant MS Basic and Tetris.

By the time we finished college, we knew that something transformational was happening and we could use black or blue Nokia bricks to tell our friends about it but we were still pretty clueless.

But here we are in 2018 and the writing is on the wall – at a frightening pace, the nature of work is being rewritten, one byte at a time.

Technology – whether it is communications, computational, machine learning, data sciences or otherwise – is rapidly changing not just the tools we use but who we are, individually or in a community. First, these changes reshaped the blue-collar landscape (look around!), and the white collars are next.  

The effect of these changes on legal industry, law, and justice will be profound. In the space of 5-10 years, they will touch every aspect –  small transactions, deals, disputes, rights, property and almost everything else that a lawyer engages with. The industry, as we know it, will fight to keep its status quo but the defenses will ultimately be overrun.  

The single most potent question that you can ask is – will you be prepared to thrive in this continuously changing future? I want you to read that question again – will you be prepared to thrive in this continuously changing future?

The truth is this – the very best law schools will give you 10-20% of the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the future, (and a lot of baggage you’ll have to drop later) but who will give you the rest?

You will have to do the rest.

Here are three pieces of advice that I hope can help you navigate your way in these changing times:

First:

The previous generations, including mine, learned a few core skills and knowledge sets and flogged it till the end of their careers, but you’ll have to learn and relearn new skills and subjects to thrive.  

The most important thing you’ll have to embrace and hone is the learning mindset itself. That’s the starting point, the foundation, and, by itself, the most vital skill or attitude, whatever you want to call it.

This is scary, I know, but trust me on this – once you develop and practice that mindset to learn and do new things, you get stronger. Each new learning cycle empowers you.

I ask you to trust me on this because as an entrepreneur this has been my entire life – wading semi-naked into new things and get humbled, even humiliated, but, slowly, finding your way and feeling stronger at the end of it.

Second:

Go to school. Slog your way into a good college. Do decently in college. Get a good job. This has been the rite of passage for as long as we can remember.

Yes, present generations can talk a bit more about seeking jobs they care for, chasing their dreams etc but by and large, the steps have been the same, and at the end, you hope, there is some establishment that will want you as much as you want it. With every passing year, you will be able to count on this less and less. You must learn to create your own future, and maybe even your own job.  

Yikes! This is even scarier than learning and relearning constantly. However, just like in that case, of the learning mindset, taking charge of your future and creating your own job(s) is incredibly empowering.

If you’ve never done it you’re always dependent on what’s out there. Once you do it you’re forever transformed.

Yes, you need to learn and grow constantly, and nothing is ever 100% certain all the time, but you are less dependent and more powerful.

I’m not saying that every person needs to become an entrepreneur but I am saying that many of the skills associated with entrepreneurship such as empathy, problem-solving, opportunity-spotting, unorthodox collaborations, bootstrapping etc. will be vital skills.

You may apply them to make your own establishment (entrepreneurship), become an effective independent professional (freelancer), create new opportunities inside an existing establishment (intrapreneurship), or just be a smarter lawyer, but the skills will be vital.

Third:

The central actors of the law and justice have been the lawyers and the judges. But this is a big head-fake. It’s not the lawyers and judges but the citizens and establishments who are the core users.

Already a vast number of different actors – blending legal, technology, media and government – are out there participating in what was otherwise a four-way flow – lawyer, judge, government, and the poor client.

Online services, legal platforms, private mediation, digital contract services, legal literacy apps, document automation and a hundred others have appeared. Many will fall by the wayside but don’t miss the forest for the trees. The revolution is here to stay. So think beyond the classical categories and identify which consumer, citizen or enterprise needs you want to address and how.

Finally – you are not alone in this moment of change. Young people everywhere, and a large number of the not-so-young are facing it.

Today, more than ever, you have all the tools to navigate the present and find your way to the future. You have to believe in yourself, work hard, enjoy the process, and take responsibility for your future.

sachin malhan
Sachin Malhan

Sachin Malhan is the co-founder and C.E.O. of HumLab, which is seeking to build an ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship in the legal industry, and law and justice delivery. HumLab is the co-organiser of the Agami Prize.

Earlier, Sachin led a major international impact programme, and co-founded and led three ventures in the law and legal industry, including Law School Tutorials (LST), Rainmaker, and Inclusive Planet. For his work in technology, media, social impact, and education, Sachin was made an INK Fellow in 2010. Sachin is a graduate of the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru and began his career with the law firm Amarchand Mangaldas at their Mumbai offices.

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