The skills of 2020
In this article, we’re on the hunt to identify the essential legal skills for the decade ahead. We asked some lawyers: what are the key qualities for today’s legal world? What skills are they hoping to develop? What will be most important for the lawyers of 2020?
To find out, Eloise Skinner spoke to Adam Klimes of Deutsche Bank, Sally Davies of Mayer Brown and Olly Haddock of RadcliffesLeBrasseur.
First up, tell us a little about your work.
Adam: I head the global markets legal team at Deutsche Bank in London and am a member of the regional senior management team. My day-to-day is a mix of advising the bank on live issues, and managing a great and diverse team of people. I also host a regular mindfulness class at Deutsche Bank, and helped found the Mindfulness In Law Group, which has been running monthly sessions in conjunction with the Law Society since early 2019.
Sally: I am the managing partner of the London office of Mayer Brown, as well as having a role on the global partnership board. I also continue to act for clients in Mayer Brown’s busy construction and disputes practice.
Olly: I have a broad disputes practice assisting partners on commercial and regulatory disputes, white collar crime and corporate investigations. I am also the chair of the London Young Lawyers Group and founder of the London Young Professionals’ Network. These organisations run regular networking events and educational programmes as well as supporting social initiatives.
Do you have a sense of purpose behind the work you do?
Adam: For me it’s about helping individuals make the most of their potential. It’s also about maintaining a strong team spirit, and it’s about nudging healthy behaviour – wellbeing at work has become a major focus for me, particularly during lockdown. Together these elements make for a high-performing team that serves the bank well. There is rarely a shortage of interesting legal work at Deutsche Bank, however as an organisation we have been through a couple of strategic shifts over recent years – and now the pandemic. Helping the team navigate uncertainty and change while keeping standards high is a challenge but, as a manager, extremely rewarding.
Sally: I see the purpose of my role as managing partner as empowering future generations to have and take advantage of opportunities that the more senior generation didn’t have. Essentially, this is about giving senior people the opportunity to share their knowledge and their own experience. And it’s about junior people being given a chance to prosper and succeed in a more inclusive and dynamic environment.
Olly: I think we all have a purpose to what we do, even if we aren’t necessarily conscious of it. For me, purpose is a combination of personal motivators and a wider sense of mission.
A career in the law can be demanding. It’s not enough to possess natural intelligence; you need to thrive off the pressure, competition and intellectual challenges posed by the industry. Personally, I would find it difficult to maintain a career without this stimulation on a daily basis.
One’s mission can be hard to pinpoint. Millennials thrive off having more than one focus and these are likely to develop over time. On the face of it, my work with the London Young Lawyers Group and the London Young Professionals’ Network is designed to build a professional network and improve my technical skills. But the opportunities to promote initiatives that impact young professionals are equally important. Helping people into the industry via mentoring programmes, promoting wellness schemes and supporting the most vulnerable in society through pro bono initiatives gives me a huge sense of pride and purpose.
How has your work shaped your identity? How has your work shaped your life?
Sally: I would say that my identity has shaped my work! My personality is a really good fit for the type of client work I went into – tough negotiation, debating, teamwork and lots of interaction between people.
Leadership has opened my eyes to some of the challenges of junior lawyers coming through the profession – I’ve had the privilege to find out more about these kinds of issues. I’ve been focused on career progression; supporting junior people; integration between lawyers and business services. These priorities have shaped my perspectives of dealing with people, listening and understanding issues. At the heart of everything, it’s a recognition of people’s humanity.
Olly: This is a real chicken and egg question. Time in this industry certainly hones your capacity to manage a busy schedule and work under pressure, while public speaking opportunities and client interaction builds confidence. All of these traits thread themselves back through my career and personal life. The litigator in me finds it difficult not to take technical points in an argument (but this is rarely productive outside of work!).
I’ve also been very fortunate to be able to weave my career together with a number of my passions. As well as building a diverse professional network, I have had opportunities to shine a light on social issues such as access to justice, diversity and mental health. These experiences have definitely given me the opportunity to express my identity and, perhaps unknowingly, shaped it.
What one lesson would you want to pass on?
Adam: Be open to change – it’s already happening. Look for the opportunities that come with change and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone – you need to do this to grow.
Sally: Resilience. I think there’s a real skill in being able to take criticism and learn from feedback.
I’m also interested in the idea of work-life integration – allowing your career and life to develop alongside each other. There doesn’t have to be a right or wrong way to do it. Also, there are a lot of people who want to keep complete separation of work and life, and this should be seen as fine as well. Communication is the key here – people should feel free to be (and express) themselves fully.
Olly: One of the most common misconceptions is that networking skills are innate; that one’s fate in a room full of strangers is set from birth. That’s just not true. Of course personality traits can give you a head start, but these skills can be built like any other. There are norms and rules to networking that make life easier for those that don’t consider themselves naturals – for example, if you think a conversation has run its course, it’s fine to exchange cards and move on, acknowledging the need to circulate. It’s all about putting yourself in those scenarios as regularly as possible.
Do you have any practical tips that help you structure your working life?
Adam: It’s crucial to find healthy strategies to navigate the stress and pressure that come with the job. I emphasise “healthy”, because many coping strategies tend to involve numbing or avoidance, with no lasting benefit.
My core strategies are physical exercise and mindfulness. Mindfulness in particular has been transformative in both work and personal life over the 8 years that I’ve been practicing. There are simple “micro-practices” lasting a few seconds that downregulate the body’s stress response and bring more calm and clarity in the moment. The deeper benefit comes with regular meditation practice, which brings insights into the habit patterns and emotional triggers that can often hijack us – for example when an unexpected situation emerges at work, or something simply doesn’t go according to plan. As we become more self-aware, we become kinder to ourselves. We’re able to suspend judgment and fully listen to colleagues (this is harder than it sounds!). We learn to pause and choose how best to respond to the random events that life throws at us, rather than always jumping to an instinctive reaction.
If that sounds appealing my tip is to give mindfulness a try. There are some good apps, or join a group – come along to one of our monthly Mindfulness In Law Group sessions!
Sally: Get enough sleep! Also, exercise helps with mental clarity. It’s about maintaining regular, sustainable wellbeing practices – these are the things that will help you avoid a negative spiral.
Olly: Flexibility probably outweighs structure at the junior end of the profession. You can have certain non-negotiables (gym, hobbies, a social life), but you have to be prepared to make them work around a career that can mean plans having to shift.
Having a supportive team is vital. Be proactive in offering to lend a hand to colleagues if you can see they are up against it. You never know when you might need them to do the same.
Having said that, you need to learn early on that it can be counterproductive to say to say yes to everything (particularly where deadlines are involved). It’s less helpful to your team to say yes and then fail to deliver. That’s not to say you don’t need to put in the hours, but often jobs will need to be done simultaneously. As much as we like to think we are, junior lawyers are not super human. Be up front with partners about capacity; it may be that others in the team can take on certain tasks to make sure that everything is done on time.
What resources or recommendations would you pass on?
Organisations To Check Out:
Watch Out For