Leveling the Playing Field: Legal Technology Requires Retooling Legal Skill Sets to Stay in the Game

By Gonzalo (Sal) Torres on May 6, 2022

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In the 2011 film, Moneyball,[1] new Oakland Athletics’ (“A’s”) baseball manager, Billy Beane (played with brillo by Brad Pitt) shakes up the centuries old business of baseball by proposing and implementing a new technology known as statistical analytics to draft its next group of players. Beane is immediately met with truculent resistance from the curmudgeons around the table who have no faith in this new approach. Eventually, Beane wins out and the A’s go on to have a stellar winning season.

Similarly, technology has permeated legal arenas from courtrooms and law offices to boardrooms and legal departments. While it’s safe to say that technology is changing our law practice at a dramatically alarming rate[2] the legal profession, in general, has not met the changes with open arms. Like the old curmudgeons in Moneyball, the legal industry has been far too reliant on a centuries-old way of practicing the business of law.[3] A lawyer’s lineage or law school renown can no longer be considered the absolute best type of hire for a law firm or legal department practice.[4] Technology is indeed ubiquitous, stretching from the global economies to the practice of law.[5] Perhaps no singular event underscored this reality better than the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted our lives—and careers—more than any other event in recent times. The rate of technology adoption, which occurred over a span of a few months, might have otherwise taken more than a decade to accomplish.[6] Once the pandemic hit, seemingly overnight, we changed the way we shopped, socialized, worked, and learned.[7] Social distancing moved our society and our careers online.[8]

I suspect that those of us who rely on technology rather than consider it a novelty managed the pivot from office to home much quicker and easier than those who do not. The pandemic showed that the use of legal technology has not been maximized the way it should have been from its inception. We have been relying on last millennium’s tools to address and solve this millennium’s legal problems.[9] There is no need to despair. The practice of law is not disappearing any time soon.

In this piece I discuss a few trends that illustrate a shift in the legal industry and how legal services are practiced and delivered. We need to recognize these trends to understand how to better prepare our lawyers—and law students—to handle a new way of playing the legal game.

I. Cloudy Skies of Growth


Here is the good news—recent data tells us that employment of lawyers is projected to grow nine percent between 2020 and 2030, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.[10]

The questions we should be asking are how much will automation and technology affect the future of lawyering and will artificial intelligence (“AI”) replace lawyers? I do not think we need to worry about AI completely replacing lawyers, however, according to a 2016 Deloitte report, 114,000 legal jobs can and likely will be automated in the next twenty years.[11] Many in the legal profession have experienced how contract management tools and research tools like LexisNexis have replaced the need for some entry level legal positions.[12]

Today’s legal services consumer is more tech savvy than ever and might expect lawyers to leverage technology to augment legal counsel. Lawyers will have to learn how to successfully mix their own legal acumen with a healthy dose of legal technology.[13] The Deloitte report foresees a future for the legal industry making profound reforms over the next decade through digital automation, the rise of millennials in the workplace, and new positions in data analytics, legal technology architecting, and other yet-to-be-identified fields.[14] These profound reforms will change the way we practice law and advancements in legal technology will permeate all aspects of the legal field.

II. Emerging Trends in the Legal Profession


My team at work consists of twenty-seven members, half of which are contract managers and paralegals. My legal department is employing and identifying more AI to help address the needs of our internal stakeholders and corporate clients.[15]  Increases in automated solutions will cause a trend towards less reliance on legal professionals.[16]

Studies show that by 2025, almost every enterprise, large and small, will rely on its contract lifecycle management tool as its central repository and source of truth for its contracts and its ability to run team productivity reports.[17] This tool defines the efficacy of contract processes and uncovers cost saving opportunities.[18] Another trend impacting law is big data.[19] An automated legal work environment means that lawyers will now be measured on strict key performance indicators (“KPIs”) designed to measure how effective the lawyer is individually and as a team.[20] The KPIs identify how that legal team might be saving money or generating revenue, and how technology will yield data to streamline legal functions and improve the client experience.[21]

Video conferencing is another trend in the legal profession that signals the legal industry’s shift towards a more client focused approach.[22] Because of COVID-19 we have grown comfortable taking client meetings and making courtroom appearances from our living room or home office via Skype, Zoom, WebEx, or Microsoft Teams. No center of legal excellence—be it private practice, public company, or non-profit organization—can ignore the fact that we now live in an age where over ninety percent of adults use the internet[23] and more than eighty percent own a smart device.[24] Law firms and legal departments can no longer build a practice on the bricks of face-to-face interactions or in-person client meetings but must make the bold and enlightened decision to design a center of legal excellence powered by an online platform and which is accessible by a laptop or a mobile phone.

Perhaps this task is too herculean for many legal leaders, however, the digital transformation of the traditional law offices brings along many other situational events. In a recent study of General Counsel (“GC”) and legal leaders conducted by Gartner, less than ten percent of the GCs and legal leaders surveyed felt confident that they could create a cohesive, long term plan for digitizing their legal departments.[25] Also, only thirteen percent of those surveyed were confident they could manage these changes without slowing down business.[26] The six shifts described in the Gartner study serve as a roadmap for creating a more flexible, resilient legal department that leverages technology more effectively and organizes its service provider networks to increase long-term productivity and support business growth.[27]

III. Welcome Technology with an Open Mind


Every law student about to graduate and every professional already practicing in law should embrace legal technology and amplify their individual value to their practice, law firm or legal department by understanding how to leverage the AI that is already here and the AI on the immediate horizon. Indeed, the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct requires each licensed attorney to stay consistent with the development of legal technology.[28] As far back as 2016, the Commission on the Future of Legal Services reiterated the significance of every lawyer’s need to stay abreast of relevant technologies.[29] The Commission recommended that bar associations start emphasizing and offering continuing legal education on technology and reinforce that education through member website content, e-newsletters, publications in bar journals, mentoring programs, and other means. The Commission made note that lawyers’ competencies be focused on technology that improves access to the delivery of legal services, especially those that can make legal services more affordable and accessible to the general public.[30] The Commission also strongly advocated that an increasing number of law schools should include legal technology as part of the curriculum.[31]

IV. Mix Your Legal and Non-Legal Skills to Stay in the Game


“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.” Robert Greene.[32]

One thing that appears certain with all the changes driven by the need for more polished legal services and digital transformation is that law firms and legal departments must look to fill their ranks with lawyers and legal professionals who possess a very particular set of skills.

As a member of a legal team in a fast-paced technology company, I frequently meet with business leaders to discuss sales motions from quote to cash, instantaneously address the drag on the contract negotiation cycles, and spontaneously develop ideas on improving legal processes to close commercial deals faster. These interpersonal and communication skills, among others, will define those that succeed in the legal teams of the future. These “particular” set of skills need to go beyond solely legal aptitude.

The Gartner study provides a glimpse of the skills lawyers must flex to stay in the game. For example, a skill GCs identified as necessary in reshaping a successful legal delivery model was mapping corporate business processes to a high-volume legal workflow and maintaining its quality.[33]  Lawyers will need to rely on their complex problem-solving skills to resolve inextricable business problems. While lawyers take pride in their ability to solve a convoluted problem, other critical skills, such as creativity, collaboration, and people management, are now as important attorney competencies to possess as a legal education.[34] Lawyers also must remain adept at critical thinking, cognitive flexibility (ability to pivot), and being a self-starter.[35]

A savvy lawyer should be able to connect with their client or colleague first, on a personal level, and wow them with their legal acumen later. That means a lawyer needs to be perceived as trustworthy initially and continue to build trust as the relationship grows. Trust is the gateway to influencing others.[36] This holds water especially for clients or customers who will rely on their lawyer’s influence to answer their legal questions.

Patrick Lencioni, an author and business consultant, discusses how to build trust between a leader and a team through “vulnerability-based trust” defined as “a place where leaders comfortably and quickly acknowledge, without provocation, their mistakes, weaknesses, failures, and need for help.”[37] Do not make the mistake so many lawyers, and people managers, often make—confusing vulnerability as a weakness. On the contrary, vulnerability is the very nucleus of the human experience and what connects us to each other.[38]

Lawyers should also craft good project management skills because the digitized law office or department means lawyers will be collaborating with legal tech vendors and a variety of cross-functional stakeholders to identify and implement the right legal services delivery model.[39] Perhaps no skill needs to be more readily available in a lawyer’s toolbox than emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient (“EQ”); however, many lawyers who score high in intelligence score below average in EQ.[40] What is most surprising is that EQ studies have shown that lawyers with a high degree of EQ make more money since they usually perform the best among their peers.[41] In short, EQ is that certain “X” factor—the soft skills that are intangible but directly impacts behavior, social relationships, and decision-making.[42] Indeed, the more developed a lawyer’s EQ, the greater the chances that lawyer has for a successful career, good health (always a plus in our practice), and increased leadership opportunities.[43] The best thing about EQ is that it can be learned.[44]



What once made a good in-house counsel or private law firm practitioner successful is fast giving way to lawyers who are agile, can pivot quickly in a digital world, and who practice a more client-centric approach. Lawyers will need to learn, develop, and enhance skills they never thought would be useful in their law practices.

A prominent title or standing in a legal practice can no longer shield lawyers from the challenges we face today. During a pandemic or in times of an unstable geopolitical world, the legal profession, like retail and consumer-based businesses, is pushed to new heights. As more of our economy and businesses digitize their realities, so, too, must the legal profession. That also means more heightened competition from alternative legal service providers who have built online platforms rivaling the traditional ivory tower law practice.[45] Understanding the technological advances in the legal field allows us to better prepare ourselves for the future.

The skills and competencies we need to teach in law schools and foster in our careers ought to be aimed at embracing technology and the skills appurtenant to it and developing non-conventional skills that will culminate in creating a better client experience. Trustworthiness needs to be your new logo. Agility in legal acumen buoyed by technical and team building skills needs to be your new business card. The EQ skills you employ in how you practice law will be your new trademark.



Oh, and that technology (statistical analytics) Beane introduced in the Oakland A’s organization that was met with such disdain? After the Boston Red Sox utilized it, they won the World Series.[46]


         [1].     See Moneyball (Columbia Pictures 2011).

         [2].     Raymond H. Brescia, What We Know and Need to Know About Disruptive Innovation, 67 S.C. L. Rev. 203 (2016).

         [3].     See generally Himesh Chavda, Breaking the Resistance to Change – the Cultural Challenges Hindering Innovation in Law, Law.Com Int’l (Jan. 15, 2019, 12:00 AM), https://www.law.com/international-edition/2019/01/15/breaking-the-resistance-to-change-the-cultural-challenges-hindering-innovation-in-law/?slreturn=20220126140504 [https://perma.cc/KDY5-VM7Y].

         [4].     Mark Cohen, Differentiation in the New Legal Marketplace and Why It Matters, Forbes (Jan. 2, 2018, 6:05 AM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2018/01/02/differentiation-in-the-new-legal-marketplace-and-why-it-matters/?sh=4c92291f38ef [https://perma.cc/76UX-2MCN].

         [5].     Videsha Proothveerajh, Embracing Legal Technology to Stay Ahead, GoLegal (May 20, 2021), https://www.golegal.co.za/embracing-legal-technology-stay ahead/ [https://perma.cc/EA2Q-M55Q].

         [6].     Laura LaBerge, Clayton O’Toole, Jeremy Schneider & Kate Smaje, How COVID-19 Has Pushed Companies over Technology Tipping Point – and Transformed Business Forever, McKinsey & Co. (Oct. 5, 2020), https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/how-covid-19-has-pushed-companies-over-the-technology-tipping-point-and-transformed-business-forever [https://perma.cc/8AA7-8DUE].

         [7].     The Evolving Consumer: How COVID-19 Is Changing the Way We Shop, McKinsey & Co. (Oct. 15, 2020), https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/mckinsey-live/webinars/evolving-consumer-how-covid-19-has-changed-us-shopping-habits [https://perma.cc/4VPQ-FA33].

         [8].     Kevin Roose, The Coronavirus Crisis Is Showing Us How to Live Online, N.Y. Times (Apr. 2, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/technology/coronavirus-how-to-live-online.html [https://perma.cc/RWH2-MEF6].

         [9].     Disrupting the Law Firm Model, Rimon Law, https://www.rimonlaw.com/disrupting-the-law-firm-model/ [https://perma.cc/E4XE-BYYS].

      [10].     Lawyers, U.S. Bureau of Lab. Stat., Occupational Outlook Handbook (Sept. 8, 2021), https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm [https://perma.cc/QMM7-BAXP].

      [11].     Jarrod Haggerty, Objections Overruled: The Case for Disruptive Technology in the Legal Profession, Deloitte, https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/financial-advisory/articles/the-case-for-disruptive-technology-in-the-legal-profession.html (click “Download the Report”) (last visited March 19, 2022).

      [12].     See, e.g., Anthony E. Davis, The Future of Law Firms (and Lawyers) in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Am. Bar Ass’n (Oct. 2, 2020), https://www.americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility/publications/professional_lawyer/27/1/the-future-law-firms-and-lawyers-the-age-artificial-intelligence/ [https://perma.cc/J6NW-K4A5].

      [13].     Mark A. Cohen, Law’s Looming Skills Crisis, Forbes (May 21, 2019, 6:56 AM) https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcohen1/2019/05/21/laws-looming-skills-crisis/?sh=7262333c445c [https://perma.cc/WW3N-6YVU].

      [14].     Haggerty, supra note 11.

      [15].     For example, to help our team expand legal skills, we employ Degreed, a learning platform that connects an employee with their desired growth and monitors and rewards learning progress as they attain new skill sets. We also started using iManage, a tool that allows us to gather and store emails, materials, and documents, and work collaboratively on projects.

      [16].     Davis, supra note 12.

      [17].     Stuart Fuller, 10 Predictions: The Legal Function in 2025, KPMG, https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2020/12/future-of-legal-article-series.html [https://perma.cc/6CUJ-8PMC].

      [18].     Id.

      [19].     Muskan, 5 Applications of Big Data in Law Industry, Analytic Steps (June 26, 2021) https://www.analyticssteps.com/blogs/5-applications-big-data-law-industry [https://perma.cc/A8SK-4FWW].

      [20].     Fuller, supra note 17.

      [21].     Id.

      [22].     Bill4Time, 7 Legal Technology Trends for a Successful 2022, The Nat’l L. Rev., (Jan. 5, 2022) https://www.natlawreview.com/article/7-legal-technology-trends-successful-2022 [https://perma.cc/C65E-FSZX].

      [23].     Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet, Pew Rsch. Ctr. (Apr. 7, 2021), https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/internet-broadband/ [https://perma.cc/XK22-HGGW].

      [24].     Mobile Fact Sheet, Pew Rsch. Ctr. (Apr. 7, 2021), https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/ [https://perma.cc/W659-SDH6].

[25]. Stephanie Quaranta, Gartner, The Future of Legal: Six Shifts GC Must Make by 2025, at 4 (2021).

      [26].     Id..

      [27].     Id. at 13.

      [28].     Model Rules of Pro. Conduct r. 1.1 cmt. (Am. Bar Ass’n 1983) (“To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology. . . .”).

      [29].     Comm’n on the Future of Legal Servs, Am. Bar Ass’n, Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States 6, 43 (2016) https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/images/abanews/2016FLSReport_FNL_WEB.pdf.

      [30].     Id. at 43.

      [31].     Id.

      [32].     Quote from Mastery by Robert Greene, GoodReads: Quotes, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/740113-the-future-belongs-to-those-who-learn-more-skills-and [https://perma.cc/WJ5E-ZRBV].

      [33].     Quaranta, supra note 25, at 9.

      [34].     See , World Econ. F., The Future of Jobs: Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (2016) https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf.

      [35].     Employers Seek Problem-Solving Skills in 2021: Online Assessments Reveal Which Crucial Skills Workers Are Missing, Bus. Wire (Dec. 16, 2020, 7:00 AM), https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20201216005124/en/Employers-Seek-Problem-Solving-Skills-In-2021 [https://perma.cc/5YN3-3KTL].

      [36].     Warmth and Competence: How We Are Judged and How We Judge Others, Head Heart + Brain, https://headheartbrain.com/resources/warmth-and-competence2/

[https://perma.cc/S95Z-TFGC] (“Trust is the conduit for influence . . . If people don’t trust you, they are not going to be open to your ideas.”).

      [37].     Mike Freed, Big Truss Selling, LinkedIn (Jul. 15, 2020), https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/big-truss-selling-michael-freed/ [https://perma.cc/WN2T-TUZS].

      [38].     See, Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead 36-56 (Avery 2012).

      [39].     Sharon George, 4 Steps to Close Skill Gaps in Legal, Gartner (May 7, 2018), https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/4-steps-to-close-skill-gaps-in-legal [https://perma.cc/7SQY-3YYL].

      [40].     How Emotional Intelligence Makes You a Better Lawyer, Am. Bar Ass’n (Oct. 2017), https://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/publications/youraba/2017/october-2017/how-successful-lawyers-use-emotional-intelligence-to-their-advan/ (last visited Apr. 11, 2022).

      [41].     Id.

      [42].     Travis Bradberry, Are You Emotionally Intelligent? Here Is How to Know for Sure, Inc. (Mar. 24, 2015), https://www.inc.com/travis-bradberry/are-you-emotionally-intelligent-here-s-how-to-know-for-sure.html [https://perma.cc/AQD6-RFH7].

      [43].     Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Can You Really Improve Your Emotional Intelligence? Harv. Bus. Rev. (May 29, 2013), https://hbr.org/2013/05/can-you-really-improve-your-em [https://perma.cc/2H4F-FU4P].

      [44].     Id.

      [45].     Eleanor Weaver, Big Four vs Big Law: How AI Is Raising the Stakes in the Legal Market, Law. Monthly (Mar. 18, 2021), https://www.lawyer-monthly.com/2021/03/big-four-vs-big-law-how-ai-is-raising-the-stakes-in-the-legal-market/ [https://perma.cc/2QH7-D8B6].

      [46].     See Moneyball (Columbia Pictures 2011); see Chris Cipriano, How Boston Broke the Curse, Bleacher Rep. (June 17, 2009), https://bleacherreport.com/articles/201349-how-boston-broke-the-curse [https://perma.cc/634Y-GYWX].