Posted on Jan 19, 2023
Lawyers may have hoped for some respite after dealing with COVID-19 and its after-effects. But 2022 was anything but smooth sailing with a change in government, international instability, large-scale cyber incidents and economic uncertainty. As we enter 2023, lawyers in Australia should be equipping themselves to deal with the ripple effects of this volatile environment. To help lawyers and law firms maintain their edge in 2023, we’ve reported on the top legal trends and skills to watch in the next year.
TREND REPORT #1
CYBER-RESILIENCE IS EVERY LAWYER’S PROBLEM
Managing cyber risks and technology is two-fold for lawyers as they need to build resilience both for their clients and in their own practice.
Large-scale attacks such as the recent Optus and Medibank data breaches have highlighted the reputational and financial consequences businesses face in our digital world. These events demonstrated how critical it is for lawyers to competently advise clients - especially directors - on managing and mitigating such risks at an organisational level.
Besides advisory skills, lawyers must also ensure they can protect their own clients' information and confidentiality and protect their practice against cybercrime and cyber incidents.
The increasing pace of technological change also means lawyers must be more aware of how the digitisation of the profession is affecting their ethical duties and build practical skills to uphold their obligations whilst working remotely or communicating digitally.
20% of law firms have experienced a cyber incident in the past two years.
Cyber Risk for Lawyers and Law Firms
TREND REPORT #2
UNDERSTANDING PRIVACY OBLIGATIONS IN A DIGITAL ECONOMY
The second half of 2022 was a wake-up call that exposed how the digitisation of our economy presents severe risks to our personal information. The recent amendments to the Privacy Act and increased penalties for breaches mean lawyers must ensure they can competently advise their clients on how to uphold their privacy obligations - particularly in managing, storing, and dealing with customer data.
Online marketing is an area where lawyers can play a crucial role in advising their clients on how they can engage in this space whilst complying with the relevant privacy rules. Indeed, most Australian businesses now use techniques such as email marketing or social advertising. Still, many are unaware of their privacy obligations or the consequences of non-compliance, which can be significant.
Cloud computing is another area that many businesses - and law firms - are engaging with to reduce costs whilst maximising IT scalability. In this context, lawyers will need to build skills to competently navigate critical legal and contractual issues and understand how to mitigate the technical and privacy risks of cloud computing.
Corporations now face penalties up to $50 million for repeated and serious breaches of privacy.
TREND REPORT #3
ADDRESSING WORKPLACE SAFETY FROM A STRUCTURAL STANDPOINT
Workplace safety, inclusivity and gender equality have received a lot of attention in the last few years. But despite the increased level of conversation, recent scandals have revealed a stark reality in Australia.
2022 was the year governing bodies decided to take a more proactive approach to changing this narrative. New initiatives such as the nationwide Respect@Work Bill and the introduction of mandatory CPD on workplace misconduct for South Australian lawyers exemplified this trend.
By introducing obligations for employers to maintain safe workplaces - the new laws introduced by the Federal Government foreshadow the possibility of future cultural change in the workplace. It is likely to take time before we can ascertain the impact of these changes. In the meantime, lawyers need to get across the new laws- since the new obligations will affect their clients, their own workplace or both - and continue building soft skills to create a safer and more positive work environment.
TREND REPORT #4
MASTERING HYBRID WORK FOR EVERYONE'S BENEFIT
Mixing in-office and remote work is now part of the 'new normal' for lawyers, with most firms - large and small - allowing lawyers to work an average of 3 days in the office and 2 days remotely.
However, this gain in flexibility also means that lawyers at all levels of seniority find themselves having to learn new ways to work and collaborate in their daily practice.
Succeeding in the world of hybrid work means understanding the real-life implications of flexible work. It also means learning new skills to successfully address hybrid-team challenges: running asynchronous projects, addressing communication gaps, and improving online meetings' effectiveness. These skills will help lawyers maintain good working relationships with colleagues and clients.
TREND REPORT #5
MAKING ‘BURN OUT’ THE EXCEPTION, NOT THE EXPECTATION
The past few years have led many of us to reflect on how our work commitments need to align better with our personal goals and aspirations. But the great resignation has come and gone, and 2023 looks like the year when many settle into their current - or new - roles.
At the same time, the disruptions from the pandemic further accentuated the systemic and societal factors that cause lawyers to have poorer levels of wellbeing and higher rates of mental ill-health than the general population.
As lawyers attempt to reset or improve work-related norms and standards, we will see a greater appetite to address wellbeing issues in the legal profession - both from an individual and structural viewpoint.
At an individual level, there is an opportunity for lawyers to build resilience by focusing on better identifying their drivers for happiness, understanding their stress triggers (as well as recognising the impact of vicarious trauma) and applying practical wellbeing strategies.
Wellbeing goes beyond personal growth and resilience for lawyers as it also impacts their ability to uphold their ethical duties. This may lead to regulatory bodies taking a more active role in addressing systemic issues specific to the profession in 2023 and beyond.
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One-third of lawyers reported experiencing moderate to severe depression, anxiety and stress.
UNSW, Lawyering Stress and Work Culture, 2013