Last week I had the privilege to serve as a panelist at a Northwestern Pritzker School of Law event entitled “Symposium 2020: AI, the New Law Firm Attorney: Artificial Intelligence Entering the Legal Profession.”
The event’s keynote speaker Seyfarth Shaw Chair Emeritus Stephen Poor and our panel explored the growing impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools in the legal industry to help lawyers achieve more by getting out of the repetitive, routine and mundane tasks that lawyers have performed in the past so they can “practice at the top of their license” as Mr. Poor stated.
I love the phrase “practice at the top of their license” as all lawyers will need to do more of this – especially as we see the rise of tech intensity as technology plays a bigger role in our professional and personal lives and leading technology like AI is increasingly used by lawyers, law firms and other legal organizations to deliver legal services to their clients.
As AI tools seek to automate and perform certain tasks that have been traditionally performed by lawyers, I believe that the Emotional Intelligence or Emotional Quotient (EQ) skills that lawyers use everyday to deliver legal services to their clients will be more important than ever before as stronger EQ skills will help enable lawyers to truly “practice at the top of their license.” Since AI, algorithms, machines and technology do not embrace EQ, the proverbial “soft skills” that are often associated with EQ can help lawyers provide even more high-impact/high-value legal counsel to their clients and differentiate their legal services from others.
As we use AI and other technology tools to better serve our clients, here are some EQ-centric skills that all lawyers and law students should develop, hone and embrace as “21st Century Lawyers”:
Be An Active Listener: Many lawyers can probably learn to listen more and speak less. Take the time to sharpen your listening skills and avoid being distracted when listening to others so you can better understand your clients, your team and your opposing counsel.
Embrace Empathy: In order to better serve our clients we need to create more proximity to them, learn more about them and put ourselves in “their shoes” so that we can clearly understand their needs and interests in order to help solve their problems. The same holds true for having greater empathy for the lawyers and allied professionals that we need to work with on a regular basis to deliver legal services to our clients. We can all learn from the empathetic leadership of social justice activist Bryan Stevenson on how to put “empathy into action.”
Strong Collaborator: The ability to partner well with others, share knowledge, build upon the work of others and make others better are critical skills for all lawyers. Having a team-first and collaboration-first temperament is vital.
Relationship Builder: Invest the time to earn the trust of both your clients and those that can enable you to best serve your clients. While terrific technology like LinkedIn exists to help develop those relationships, please remember that there is still no substitute for the in-person relationships and connections that we develop with people.
Advocate & Influence: Lawyers are “sellers” as we are constantly persuading and advocating on behalf of our clients. In my role as a lawyer at Microsoft I find myself always “selling” and trying to influence nearly everyone that I work with – whether it be my management, my peers, my team, my clients and our great customers and partners.
Great Communicator: When I was growing up in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan served as our President and his reputation as a “great communicator” was instrumental to his being elected twice as President. As lawyers we also need to be “great communicators” who are skilled in the art of communicating in a clear, concise, impactful and easy to understand manner.
Excellent Judgment: In my opinion a lawyer’s “special sauce” is her/his judgment when advising their clients on matters. Such judgment and intuition is honed over a period of time based on the culmination of a lawyer’s experiences so she/he can enable their clients to engage in smart risk-taking.
Break Down Barriers: Lawyers who can skillfully navigate through blockers, have a bias for action to drive matters forward towards resolution and have a reputation for getting things done on behalf their clients will always be in high demand. As a wise person once told me, “being done is better than being perfect.”
Feedback Seeker + Implementer: Some have said that feedback is a “gift” – especially constructive feedback. One of the ways that we can improve and serve as more impactful legal advisors is to actively seek such feedback from our clients and others who we work with – and to take action to convert such feedback towards self-improvement.
Always Ethical: While technology advances and solutions like AI become more prevalent in the legal profession, lawyers will need to demonstrate greater leadership in upholding high standards for ethics and integrity. Embracing strong integrity and ethics are non-negotiables for all lawyers and are the foundational elements for earning trust.
Embrace Change: As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, the only constant during our current era known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is change. We need to be open to proactively adapting and evolving as legal advisors or else we run the risk of becoming extinct and irrelevant.
Lawyers should not fear AI or the so-called “robots.” Instead, let’s both embrace AI as a tool to serve our clients and “double-down” to improve our EQ and soft skills so we can deliver the high-impact legal services that all of our clients deserve.