What skills do aspiring lawyers need for a successful career in the mid-21st Century? A selection of our previous “The Brief Talks To” contributors share their insights.

To thrive in the modern legal profession takes more than an encyclopaedic knowledge of the law. Increasingly lawyers are expected to be businesspeople, and technology is further altering the nature of the job, with uncertainty as to what AI will mean for the role of the lawyer in future.

When The Brief interviewed a number of the legal leaders who featured in “The Brief Talks To”, we asked what advice they would give to up-and-coming-lawyers, or what they wish they had been taught at law school, but weren’t. A selection of their responses can be found below.

Fraser Gillies, Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie

Last month The Brief spoke to Fraser Gillies, managing partner of the Scottish firm Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie. Addressing the likely changes to working practices that AI could usher in, he said tomorrow’s lawyers would need to focus not just on their technical ability but on “softer” people and problem-solving skills.

He explained, “The challenge for them will be to ensure they are building their relationship skills and their business development skills.

“It will still be about identifying the solutions to clients’ problems, and sometimes having to think about of new ways of solving those problems.

But, at the heart of it, it’s a people business, and that’s more the case now than ever before.

Jason Romer, Collas Crill

Back in 2022 we asked Jason Romer, group managing partner at the offshore firm Collas Crill, what he wished he had been taught at law school, but wasn’t. He said, “I think it’s the importance of networking, and the importance of building your network.

I always think that when lawyers become partners, they have a real shift. Previously it’s just about being a really good fee earner, and then all of a sudden you say to them, ‘Ah, no, now you’ve got to be developing your own business.

“'Now you’ve got to be all over your figures, and now you’ve got to be all over it in terms of people management, and you’ve also got to be all over it in terms of debt and WIP management.’

“So, I think I think that if they could teach that combination of being a businessperson as well as a lawyer, we would have much more rounded people coming out of law school, as opposed to people who are just trained to be very, very good lawyers.”

Karima Noren, Privacy Compliance Hub

It isn’t just in private practice that business skills are seen as vital for the future. Karima Noren worked in-house for Google, then co-founded a business providing outsourced general counsel services for scale-up businesses, before establishing the Privacy Compliance Hub, a data protection compliance platform.

Asked what she wishes she had been taught at law school but wasn’t, she told The Brief, “I think things are extremely difficult and different now. At the time I started the BlackBerry was being introduced and we were still writing letters.

We had time to do things, so I think that now lawyers need to be taught the softer skills of how to deal with workload, stress, and difficult problems.

Kate Granville Smith, Burges Salmon

Kate Granville Smith, director in the pensions team at Burges Salmon, made a similar point, saying that lawyers today need to be prepared to communicate at a much faster pace than when she began her career at the turn of the century, and to be prepared to focus more on business development and management issues.

She said, “I think there is more project management in the job now, because clients ask more of you in terms of scoping your advice and providing fee estimates.

“I also think there is more focus on business development, because it’s a very competitive market and the ways of communicating have changed so much. You need to be au fait with things like LinkedIn and webinars, and it is all just so much quicker.

“Back in 2021 you used to send a letter off in the post, and you could guarantee that you had 40 hours before somebody came back to you, but now it’s instant.

Plus you need to wear so many different hats, from PR to finance, when running a file now, so I think it’s more challenging.


Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie

Burges Salmon

The Privacy Compliance Hub

Collas Crill

Connect with Fraser Gillies via LinkedIn

Connect with Kate Granville Smith via LinkedIn

Connect with Karima Noren via LinkedIn

Connect with Jason Romer via LinkedIn