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Who Will Train Digital (Legal) Talent At Scale?

By Mark A. Cohen.


The acceleration of change is straining human capacity to adapt. The implications are profound for individuals, families, business, societies, geopolitics, and the planet. How can humanity meet the challenges change poses and realize the opportunities it presents? The urgency of adaptation is already impacting the workforce, business and society.



Business is confronting an acute digital talent gap. A recent global, cross-sector study by Capgemini, in collaboration with LinkedIn, reveals the breadth, depth, and severity of the talent gap. The Capgemini findings are based on interviews of approximately 1,250 leadership teams, human research and enterprise talent executives, digital and technology recruiters, and employees of large enterprises. Some key takeaways include:

  • Nearly all organizations acknowledge the importance of digital talent and recognize that demand outstrips supply, but nearly half of those surveyed acknowledged they have no concerted enterprise strategy to address it;

  • The talent gap is widening;

  • The talent gap is no longer confined to HR; it is an enterprise challenge affecting all areas of business;

  • Both hard skills (e.g. tech and data-literacy) and soft skills (e.g. creative thinking and lifelong learning mindset) are lacking—51% and 59% respectively;

  • The soft skills in greatest demand are customer-centricity and passion for learning

  • The hard skills topping the list are cybersecurity and cloud computing

Another study conducted recently by Gallup and Amazon Web Services exposes the severity of the digital skills gap and the stakes for bridging it. For example, it found in the UK:

  • Only 11% of the workforce possess digital skills

  • 72% of UK businesses have vacancies for workers with digital skills

  • 68% find it difficult to hire the digital workers they need

  • Investment in advanced digital skills could raise the annual GDP in the UK by 67.8bn GBP.

The digital skills gap is easier to detect and quantify than to resolve. Who will train digital talent, and how can that process be accelerated and scaled? This article examines the enterprise response to the challenge, then applies lessons learned to the legal function.


Business Is Transforming Its Strategic Talent Management Strategy To Stanch The Skills Gap

What is digital talent? The question is best considered from the marketplace perspective—what skills do employers across different sectors, geographies, and functions require? The World Economic Forum (WEF) recently released its 2023 Future of Jobs Report, listing the top 10 most important skills for today’s workforce. The list includes: analytical thinking; creative thinking; resilience, flexibility, and agility; motivation and self-awareness; curiosity and lifelong learning; technological literacy; dependability and attention to detail; empathy and active listening; leadership and social influence; and quality control. These skills do not align with what is being taught at most schools and higher educational institutions. Business—and the workforce—must rely on other sources for acquiring the technical and emotional intelligence skills required by digital business. That is why business is transforming its strategic talent management strategy.


Business is not putting all its chips on higher education to stanch the talent gap; it cannot sit on the sidelines until the legacy higher education model is disrupted. Nor will cosmetic changes to legacy enterprise talent management programs suffice. Bold new approaches are required. That is why market leading companies across sectors are effecting proactive, data-backed, top-to-bottom transformation of their strategic talent management programs.


Higher educational institutions have grown and prospered by filling seats with the implied promise that a degree is a passport to marketplace advantage. That process has been fueled by HR leadership’s degree funnel— diplomas were a proxy for competence, intelligence, and social skills.


The legacy higher educational model, fueled by readily available government and private loans, has produced a student loan crisis of epic proportions. The US figure is $1.75 trillion. Crushing student debt, diluted degrees, a dearth of experiential learning, and grads lacking hard and soft skills are the byproducts of an anachronistic higher educational.


Harvard Business School and Accenture recently analyzed “middle-skill” jobs (e.g. some education or training beyond high school but not a four-year degree). They found no productivity change between college grads and those lacking a degree. The trend lines point to more on-demand skills based and experiential learning and fewer diplomas. In a world where creative thinking is more prized than memorization; experience eclipses doctrinal learning; a “we” mindset replaces a zero-sum, “you or me” one; and a learner-for-life more than an intellectually stagnant degree holder, business is taking steps to produce the talent it needs.


The urgency to fill existing and prospective positions with digital talent and to upskill those already in the workforce are among the reasons why leading companies have boldly assessed and transformed their enterprise talent management strategies. Some key initiatives leading companies are undertaking include:

  • Direct involvement by the C-Suite in the formulation of the enterprise talent strategy and lifecycle;

  • A paradigmatic hiring shift from diplomas to skills;

  • Increased investment in upskilling and career advancement to promote retention and to identify high-performers early on;

  • Targeted collaboration with universities focused on training in areas of existing and projected talent supply demand/

  • Promoting a learning-for-life mindset and encouraging creative thinking, cross-cultural collaboration, and forging a culture that values these and other humanistic values.

  • Collaborating with other companies to create joint solutions for fulfilling skill demand

The talent issue has been elevated to a top C-Suite priority PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey found that 61% of CEOs identify retention of skills and talent as a key issue over the next five years. The ability to acquire and manage talent is the second most cited critical capability for tomorrow’s CEO’s. McKinsey analyzed the results of 200 large-scale digital and AI transformations, concluding that “long-term success comes when the C-suite fundamentally changes their talent, operating model, technology and data capabilities.” This is true across industries, enterprises, and functions.


Talent management is no longer the sole province of HR departments; it is a pan-industry matter emanating from the C-Suite. Talent, purpose, and corporate culture are inextricably bound; the success of one depends upon the success of the enterprise developing the others. Business must create a culture that values teamwork, humanity, customer-centricity, ethical behavior, diversity united by common purpose, and a relentless desire to improve.

The degree filter for hiring talent is being replaced by a focus on skills. Companies are no longer dismissing a large pool of potential talent because they lack a degree. A recent Salesforce survey found that among hiring leaders, 82% of those surveyed said that skills are the most important attribute when evaluating candidates. Only 18% said that relevant degrees more important.


This transformative hiring shift has many salutary effects for individuals and business. For individuals, it relieves them of the onerous economic burden of degree programs whose return-on-investment is highly uncertain and often marginal; accelerates their entry into the marketplace and extends their earning years; provides invaluable marketplace experience; focuses recruitment on skills that fill needs, not degrees that often do not, and provides upskilling/advancement opportunities.


For business, the focus on skills over degrees expands the talent pool, promotes a more organically diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce; accelerates the process of filling enterprise needs; and creates a skills-based culture that encourages agility, constant learning, and collaboration.


New educational and training models are already scaling. Coursera and Udacity are two of a growing number of high-quality, online institutions offering vast catalogues courses taught by leading academics and “pracademics.” Their technology-enabled platforms, on demand accessibility, practical training, and skills-based approach are an antidote for the binary “go to school or go to work” legacy university model.


Companies are also doubling down on efforts to up-skill their existing workforce and to provide career advancement opportunities. This is neither an easy, fast, or universally successful undertaking. Too often, many in the workforce say they are “too busy with work” to invest time in learning programs. This is a mistake in the short and long-term. Upskilling may not be job insurance, but it enhances marketability and broadens career options. Companies can only provide the opportunity to upskill; individuals must seize it. As Richard Branson said, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don't want to.”


In addition to launching internal upskilling and career advancement programs, business is also tapping into programs being launched by tech giants. Those programs have initially focused on Microsoft recently announced a new AI training initiative aimed at expanding access to AI skills through free coursework. Developed in partnership with Microsoft-owned LinkedIn, the coursework will be offered through LinkedIn’s training platform. The coursework will cover introductory concepts of AI and responsible AI frameworks. Following completion of the course, participants will receive a Career Essentials certificate.


Microsoft’s initiative comes on the heels of the explosive growth of interest—and mounting anxiety—spawned by the November 30, 2022 public release of Chat GPT. Since then, generative AI has dominated front pages as well as tech columns. The “coming out” of generative AI and the ambivalent response it has drawn is emblematic of the parodical nature of digital age. The fever pitch of interest and enthusiasm has been mixed with deep concern among leading AI experts of existential threat(s) that AI could trigger. Bill Gates and Open AI CEO Sam Altmann are among a group of vaunted interdisciplinary signatories of a 22-word statement admonishing that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”


Another paradox of the digital age is that as reliance on technology increases, so too has humanity (soft skills) taken on heightened importance. Empathy, collaboration, curiosity, and passion are among the core attributes that separate humans from machines. They are increasingly valued at a time when change has accelerated; the path forward is less certain; and challenges are complex.


Collaboration between and among companies to support common needs—coupled with a marked expansion of strategic partnerships—is another antidote to the skills gap. Google recently launched a Career Certificate program in cybersecurity in response to a critical shortage of skilled talent. The program can be completed in less than six months, with no prior experience required. Upon completion, graduates can connect directly with companies that hire cybersecurity professionals, through a consortium of more than 150 employers including American Express, Colgate Palmolive, Mandiant (part of Google Cloud), T-Mobile, Walmart, and Google. At the time of this writing, more than 150,000 have registered for the course.


The foregoing are some of the ways business is taking on the digital skills gap. This is a helpful roadmap for the legal industry to follow. One might fairly question the urgency the legal function attaches to its skills gap. Of greater importance is whether the C-Suite, big tech, and GC’s recognize the existence and implications of law’s skills gap. There is mounting evidence that they do, and that will accelerate transformation to a new legal training paradigm.


Who Will Train Digital Legal Talent?

Law’s digital skills gap is not new; the author initially examined the problem in a 2017 Forbes article, concluding law schools are not the answer. Fresh approaches are required to align the legal function with business and the wider society. Digital legal talent will come from more result-driven, tech-enabled, data-backed, collaborative, multidisciplinary approaches to education, training, and career development, not from the legacy model.


The legal digital skills gap is not simply an internal functionalchallenge. It negatively impacts business, clients/ customers, and society. Much is riding on the development of digital legal talent; the legal function can drive far more value to the enterprise than it presently does. For example, it can facilitate commerce not impede it; combine legal training with data analytics to transform the litigation function to “early risk detection, remediation, mitigation, and resolution;” and contribute to enterprise risk assessment, government relations, revenue creation, regulatory and compliance, among a host of other things.


The latent potential of a digital legal function extends beyond business. It has the opportunity to drastically reduce the access to justice crisis by building on the pioneering work of “retail” legal companies like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer. This will have important social and societal consequences, both of which have been largely overlooked by the corporate segment of the legal industry.


The question remains: who will train digital legal talent?


During the past few years, an alphabet soup of legal training programs has been spawned —T, L, and O-shaped lawyers among them. Each offers a list of supplemental skills for contemporary lawyers—a helpful start. What is missing, however, is how to train them at scale, how to apply training to real-life problem solving, and convincing the profession at large—notably law firms and corporate legal departments—that digital training is every bit as pressing as the demands of everyday work. Legal “bootcamps” and executive training programs, likewise are not scalable solutions to the digital skills gap process.


Richard Susskind, the legal Nostradamus, recently published the Third Edition of “Tomorrow’s Lawyers.” Susskind graphically and concisely lays out a legal delivery and career trajectory that is markedly different from the legacy norms. He enumerates a list of new legal roles (e.g. legal design, data analytics, technology roles, etc.). Reverse-engineering these and other roles would provide a helpful starting point for upskilling today’s lawyers to become tomorrow’s. Imagine if, as Susskind suggests, every corporate legal department and law firm directed their workforce to learn a new skill every six months and set aside time for that process? That would be a start, not only in skill-building but also developing a learning-for-life mindset.


The Digital Legal Exchange (www.dlex.org), is a unique, global not-for-profit formed in 2017 focused on enterprise digital transformation, especially as it relates to the legal function.


The Exchange is comprised of senior legal and business leadership of approximately 50 global leading member companies. A faculty of thought leaders and market movers from business, law, technology, government, regulators and educators collaborate with members in a variety of ways. The list includes: focused discussions on digital transformation-related issues; creation of proprietary member content as well as materials for general distribution; sharing member digital challenges and experiences in a safe environment to forge solutions; and tackling the legal digital skills gap. This involves digital benchmarking, creating best practices, and building a collaborative community that shares lessons learned from their digital journeys. Talent has emerged as a focus of the Exchange because of the universal challenge it poses to members.


The Exchange advances a multidisciplinary, holistic, data-backed, tech-enabled, approach to enterprise problem, elevating the role of the legal function. Its Faculty Advisors, 35 global thought leaders and doers with deep expertise in different, interrelated facets of digital transformation, are a “Dream Team” for scalable digital legal training and career development. Strategic partnerships with e-education, multidisciplinary consulting companies, and tech Goliaths have the potential to accelerate, scale, and integrate the training process with real-time problem solving.


This is a blueprint for future digital legal training as well as the accelerated integration of law with business, technology, and the future of training and career development.


Goliath tech companies are already expanding their footprint in the legal industry. For example, Thompson Reuters partnered with Microsoft to support contract drafting. Soon, in-house counsel can use generative AI-powered Microsoft 365 Copilot to draft contracts. As the attorney works on the agreement in Copilot’s version of Microsoft Word, the suite of Thomson Reuters legal tools can be enlisted for assistance. This is one example of how Thomson Reuters is applying generative AI to assist in legal work. The company has since announced plans to incorporate generative AI across its entire suite of legal tech products.


Unsurprisingly, many in the legal establishment are taking a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” approach to AI application to legal. A recent Southern District of New York case involving a lawyer who filed a motion replete with bogus case citations provided by ChatGPT made headlines. It has become a cudgel wielded by many firms against AI. This parallels the knee-jerk defensive opposition of legal academics to AI, citing the potential for plagiarism, not AI’s immense value as a learning tool. Fear mongering and stasis remain the tools of many in the legal establishment. That is why legal disruption will come from business.


Conclusion

As AI and other technological advances improve at an ever-accelerating rate and become more embedded in legal practice, two seminal questions emerge: (1) where does specialized expertise live if the legal thought process is performed by a computer “co-pilot?;” and (2) if legal training relies too heavily on AI to guide critical thinking, how do they learn the critical thought process required for excellence as a lawyer?

AI raises a host of other ethical, economic, and philosophical questions not only for law but also for other professions. Erik Brynjolfsson, an eminent Stanford economist focused on the effects of information technologies on business strategy and digital commerce, recently published article on the promise and perils of human-like AI. He describes two different types of AI: augmentation and automation. Augmentation collaborates with humans to perform tasks and democratizes the process; automation replaces humans and places tremendous power in the hands of the creators. This divergence has profound political, economic, and human consequences.


The legal function should have a strong voice in this discussion. To do so, it must first possess digital agility.


All articles by thought leader Mark A. Cohen are also published at Forbes.

 

About the Author

Mark A. Cohen is the CEO of Legal Mosaic, a legal business consultancy. He serves as Executive Chairman of the Digital Legal Exchange, a global not-for-profit organization created to teach, apply, and scale digital principles to the legal function. He also served as the Singapore Academy of Law LIFTED Catalyst-in-Residence, held Distinguished Fellow and Distinguished Lecturer appointments at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and Georgetown Law as well as at numerous foreign law schools including IE (Spain), Bucerius (Germany), and the College of Law (Australia).


The first thirty years of his professional career were spent as a "bet the company" civil trial lawyer--decorated Assistant U.S. Attorney, BigLaw partner, founder/managing partner of a multi-city litigation boutique, outside General Counsel, and federally-appointed Receiver of an international company conducting business across four continents. Mark pivoted from the representation of clients to 'the business of law' approximately fifteen years ago.


He cofounded and managed Clearspire, a groundbreaking 'two-company model' law firm and service company. The Clearspire model and lessons learned from it are the foundation upon which his current activities are fused with the practice portion of his career.


Follow Mark on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out his website.


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