Postcard from Poland (First published on the Law Society Gazette website)

Following her trip to Poland to attend the European Association of Lawyers annual conference, Sue Bramall explores how lawyers who can combine hi-tech skills with foreign languages will enjoy a competitive advantage in a global connected marketplace.

On the same day that the Deputy Prime Minister of Poland visited London, I was heading in the opposite direction to Lodz, Poland’s third largest city, to a conference of the European Association of Lawyers.

My invitation to speak had arrived just two days after the Brexit vote, so I was delighted to know that at least my Polish colleagues were keen to remain on good terms. It also provided an opportunity to find out what fellow professionals the other side of the channel were thinking.

The Association of European Lawyers (ELA) is just one example of the many shapes of European-ness. Led by the energetic Maria Slavak from Gdansk, the ELA’s idea of European relations is certainly not confined within the EU.

I met lawyers from Odessa in the Ukraine and from Tbilisi in Georgia, who had been invited to strengthen links to the East. The General Counsel of Poland’s largest pharmaceutical company presented their CSR strategy, and their map of international markets spread notably eastward. As a country on the edge of the EU, Poland is looking at opportunities in all directions.

At these events, one is always struck by the linguistic abilities of delegates who can happily converse to a very high level of sophistication in several languages. I speak French to a professional level and early in my career this provided opportunities to work on projects related to Eurotunnel, EuroDisney and for several Brits who bought chateaus in France. Learning a language opens doors to the wider world and, while we may be fortunate that English is still the main language of business, the strongest relationships are also built informally and negotiations often take place outside the board room – or even on a golf course! An inability to really connect in another language puts a party at a disadvantage.

I could not find any statistics on the level of language skills amongst solicitors, although it is possible to search by language on the Find a Solicitor website. If the profession is to remain fit for a global future perhaps this is something that could be included in a future annual survey?

The internet also operates without geographical boundaries, and a key theme at the conference was the emergence of online legal platforms, not just in Europe but also in the USA and Australia. There was lively debate over whether these should be seen as an opportunity or a threat?

In the same way that language skills open doors, then technical knowledge is equally valuable if British lawyers are to advise and work with online companies to deliver the solutions of the future.

New technology is creating new legal requirements for legal advice on a daily basis, whether this relates to matters of privacy, data protection, intellectual property rights or medical ethics. The solicitor who understands crypto-currencies, wearable tech, AI, blockchain holographic protection or robotics will have a clear advantage.

Lawyers who combine hi-tech skills and foreign languages will be highly prized by law firms who see the opportunities in a global connected marketplace. 

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