Something I have been thinking about for a while is the concept of a “hybrid lawyer.” These are individuals that are legally trained attorneys that can extend their knowledge cross-functionally. The predominant area where I have seen this in the legal industry is in software development and data science/analytics. While I do believe that those skills are crucial to innovate the law, there also needs to be room to value other traditional business disciplines like design, marketing, sales, and customer success. Any team or project benefits from a diverse group or participants.
Several months ago, I finished David Epstein’s book Range where the central argument is that it is not the specialists that succeed in today’s dynamic business environment but the “jack of all trades.” These types of people have atypical paths to their profession and are those that explore areas outside an exclusive specialty. Epstein argues that these are the types of people that contribute most to innovation. I found his arguments and anecdotes compelling.
How do we get more of these hybrid lawyers though? We are taught to specialize in our careers as early as possible in order to be on a successful trajectory. Often the early work an attorney performs becomes their practice area for the rest of their career. This trend though won’t do a good job of producing the dynamic solutions to address the challenges facing the legal industry today. What the legal profession needs is more lawyers to be exposed to design thinking, process improvement, and maybe even a little psychology and music to give the entire industry more innovative ideas and solutions. To start, lawyers should just be encouraged to explore more areas outside of purely the law. This will give them a wider breadth of experience to help solve their client’s needs and improve their organization.
This also needs to be an organization-wide encouraged practice. A few hybrid lawyers in an organization can certainly do some good. However, an entire organization of lawyers with skills and knowledge in areas outside the law unlocks a lot more bites at the innovation apple. Additionally, I don’t believe that there should be a strict curriculum of “non-law” skills that attorneys have to be trained in. Allow them to self-select based upon their interests. Speaking from experience, there is nothing worse than trying to learn SQL when your heart’s not in it.
So next time we think about how to develop an organizational culture where groundbreaking big ideas can blossom, don’t have all lawyers get an agile certificate and expect that to be enough. Let legal practitioners pursue their interests broadly and make space in your organization where it is celebrated. Who knows, very compelling ideas might start to come forward.