Scott Westfahl Morning Future
Imagining Interview 9 July Jul 2018 0830 9 July 2018

How is the best of the best created? Radically changing the students’ expectations

This is the conviction of Scott Westfahl, guru of legal training and director of executive education at Harvard Law School, the most esteemed law faculty in the world

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Radically changing the expectations of the students and getting them accustomed to working as a team This is the guiding principle of Scott Westfahl, director of executive education at Harvard Law School, the most esteemed law faculty in the world and, just to be clear, where Barack and Michelle Obama graduated. A very strict entry selection and an intensive programme aimed precisely at projecting the new graduates into the most important law firms of the United States and the entire world. As director of the professional training programme Westfahl has very clear ideas on the skills that lawyers must have in a continually changing world.

Which skills must the lawyer of the future absolutely have?

I think it is necessary to look at the training of lawyers as a triangle: there are three basic aspects. First of all there are technical and legal skills which are acquired traditionally at university and are strengthened after finding a job. Then there are the other two sides of the triangle: professional skills and teamwork.
Professional skills are understood as the so-called “soft skills”, which in reality is not a term l like because it makes them seem secondary whereas they are critical qualities in any profession. These are the capacity for leadership, project management, financial management and business strategy. They are all skills that are not taught in law faculties but which must be learned after finding a job.

I do not like the term "soft skills" because it makes them seem secondary whereas they are critical qualities in any profession.

Scott Westfahl, director of executive education at Harvard Law School

These skills, which are not concerned directly with law, are connected with the third side of the triangle, which is teamwork. Professionals are involved in resolving increasingly complex problems that require not only a broad perspective but also the ability to cooperate in an interdisciplinary way with professionals from other fields such as engineers, consultants, financial experts, developers. This is why teamwork becomes so important. This too is an approach not taught at university, unlike business school. Law students are more used to working on their own but it is important to reverse this trend and train those capable of appreciating the value of teamwork. If lawyers do not respect the strong points of others then it will be very complicated to make any professional advancement. In a world where technology is advancing so rapidly and can perform an increasing number of functions connected in some way to legal practice, the lawyers are left precisely with the ability to carry out a complex interdisciplinary job at a high level. The networks will cover an increasingly important role.

How?

We live in an increasingly complex world where there are multiple levels. Take for example the I-Phone. The brand is Apple but more than 200 companies are involved in the production process. Moreover, this object would be absolutely useless if Apps did not exist and yet Apple does not develop them. So we find ourselves in interconnected situations in which cooperation becomes essential. All organisations must become aware of this. In the United States a start-up called Catalant exists which offers the possibility for freelance workers in different fields to come together and cooperate together on specific projects. From time to time, depending on the project, new work teams are formed. An increasing number of companies, when they need consulting services, post a request on this site instead of contacting consulting giants and entrust the job to the team with the most qualified members. There are 35 thousand experts on this platform. It is an immense access to excellent resources from the most varied disciplines. It is a very effective model and probably destined to redefine organisations, to the extent that large consulting companies expect a radical change in the search for human resources: we are moving ever closer to the combination of talents and professionals from extremely varied fields, from lawyers to A.I. experts and developers. In brief, no longer just generic consultants

Many are talking about the “legal industry” but I do not think we have an industry. I believe instead that it is a profession necessary for the organisation of society and the creation of justice.

Scott Westfahl, director of executive education at Harvard Law School

From his observatory ​it therefore seems that organisational structures are tending to become more fluid. Is it possible to foresee the disappearance of great legal practices, on the model of Catalant, with single professionals who meet occasionally to discuss a project?

There are some people who speculate that this might happen. But among the founders of Catalant there are worries that without any organisations there will no longer be a place to really get trained and the situation in which trainees can learn would then no longer exist. In reality there would be a way to deal with this aspect by activating a mentorship system within the platform, thus enabling the younger professionals working on various projects to be mentored by people with more experience. I think that for practising law a different argument applies. Many are talking about the “legal industry” but I do not think we have an industry. I believe instead that it is a profession necessary for the organisation of society and the creation of justice. We can have a considerable impact on major issues concerning social justice. In the United States we have seen it in the decision of the Supreme Court in favour of gay civil unions. Many large practices have worked towards achieving this result, writing briefs and legal arguments for the Court. If there were no more legal practices but only individual freelancers this great potential for impact and influence would be lost.

Lawyers must be increasingly willing to cooperate with others and for this ​reason they must have highly developed relational abilities.

Scott Westfahl, director of executive education at Harvard Law School

So what will legal practice 5.0 be like?

It will be much more inclusive. Lawyers must be increasingly willing to cooperate with others and for this reason they must have highly developed relational abilities. There must be professionals from extremely diverse fields, from data analysis to machine learning and A.I. Then it will be a question of understanding how to define these professional positions because at the moment in the United States only lawyers can become members of a legal practice. Starting from university education it is necessary to train students in problem solving, the power of the network and teamwork. It is necessary to change expectations radically; this is the most effective way to undertake training.

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