The multi-disciplinary lawyer: Why legal expertise isn’t enough

coffee cup and laptop Jacob Murad KPA Lawyers

The conventional notion of what makes a successful, valuable lawyer has and continues to undergo a transformation. While it is still important to have legal expertise, this has become just the starting point for the profession as a whole and is in no way guaranteed a successful representation of clients and the community.

With the rise of AI and in-house practitioners, there is a rising demand for lawyers who possess a diverse array of skills and knowledge to justify the cost. To maintain their license, lawyers must generate continuing professional development hours every year to maintain their expertise in the legal field. However, it would be more productive to require lawyers to strive to obtain knowledge in other subjects and industries to better provide genuine value to their clients.

For one thing, a lawyer who specializes in a particular area of law should have a general understanding of clients’ industries and the steps leading up to when a lawyer is required. Many times, a lawyer is the LAST step in a multi-step process to accomplish goals. For example, when a lawyer drafts a will for a client, this is only the final step of a succession planning tool, which involves discussions relating to tax, insurance, corporate, business and family planning. So, the real value is in the planning and steps leading up to the will, not in the drafting of the actual will document. Similarly, a lawyer who conducts real estate transactions is the last step in another series of events — a client engages a real estate broker to find a home, a professional to inspect the home, a lender to obtain a mortgage, etc. It is only at the end of these steps that a lawyer is paid a relatively small fee to complete the real estate transaction.  


For a lawyer to be successful and more valuable to the client, they would need to be involved in the prior steps; in order to do that, they must be knowledgeable in the areas in which the client needs assistance. An estate lawyer will no longer be successful if he or she simply drafts and updates a will; this lawyer needs a general understanding of taxes, life insurance products and so forth to direct succession planning properly.

Similarly, a real estate lawyer should have a basic understanding of what lenders are looking for in providing a mortgage so that if a real estate transaction cannot close due to lack of financing, the lawyer can provide the client with the right steps in raising the money to accomplish their goals. At a bare minimum, the additional knowledge gained by a lawyer will allow the lawyer to refer the client to the right professional, broker or tradesperson and be part of those discussions such that the client’s solutions will be met.

Another example I see many times is corporate lawyers or corporate litigators who have little to no understanding of the very businesses they are advising. For example, I wrote about working capital disputes in another article and how the lack of understanding of this issue by lawyers creates large disputes between the clients later. By immersing themselves in the nuances of their clients’ businesses, lawyers can anticipate potential legal issues before they escalate, thereby adding tangible value to their services.

The logical counterargument to all of this is: How can a lawyer be expected to know all this? It is difficult enough to maintain legal competency without learning other professions and businesses. And what about the adage “jack of all trades, master of none?”

The idea here is not to be a master of every trade necessarily but, rather, to have a minimum level of understanding to ask sufficient questions or give proper references to guide the client and solve their problems. After all, lawyers are expected to have this same level of competence in the law in general — a corporate lawyer today may not know how to conduct a real estate transaction, but they have the resources to guide them if they want to switch areas of practice. It is this minimum level of understanding of other industries that will allow a lawyer to be successful.

It is one thing to have a basic understanding of multi-disciplines; it is another to be able to communicate your understanding to clients. This communication involves understanding basic “lingo” and “slang” used in other industries to demonstrate your knowledge of other disciplines and improve credibility. For example, a corporate lawyer acting for a seller of their business demonstrates an understanding of mergers and acquisitions by saying a phrase like, “The buyer of your company is basing their price on an EBITDA multiple of five times.” Simply communicating phrases like this will demonstrate to the client that the lawyer understands what the client is looking for and that the lawyer is the right person for the job.

Using plain English and speaking with confidence are also key competencies that take lawyers years to master but, ironically, are never required while attending law school in the first place. Picking up the phone, using industry terms and speaking clearly to the other person in itself provides more value to a client than the hours spent on a carefully crafted legal memo or lengthy email that a client may have neither asked for nor understood. Lawyers who can speak the same language of different disciplines foster stronger relationships and enhance the overall client experience.

Lastly, understanding various disciplines provides for creative problem-solving (which as I’ve written before, software can never replace). This is because legal matters rarely exist in isolation. Many times, I attempted to hire lawyers for a complex issue I was working on and was accepted for one piece of the solution but turned away on the other key pieces leaving me without the full solution to my issue. Lawyers equipped with interdisciplinary knowledge are better equipped to navigate these multifaceted challenges and further drive a “stickiness” with the client.

By embracing interdisciplinary learning and expanding their knowledge beyond the confines of law, lawyers can provide real value to their clients by offering strategic insights, fostering innovation and building enduring relationships. In a profession where adaptability and versatility are paramount, the multifaceted lawyer is better equipped to navigate the challenges and opportunities of today’s legal landscape.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.


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