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Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm at Lexpo: "It's not about knowledge, it's about the skills"

Written by Lucien Wopereis

Lawyers no longer sell knowledge, but skills. Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm, Partner at Bureau Brandeis and panellist at Lexpo, therefore believes we need to change the way lawyers are trained: "All very nice, I know, the latest state of affairs in contract law, but hardly relevant. Lawyers need to get a lot more skills training. This need is only gradually being understood in the legal profession."

Sometimes Alberdingk Thijm assists actors in a court of law. They often take care of their own closing arguments and when that happens there is not a dry eye in the house – in a manner of speaking. "They make a very passionate pleading, as if their life depended on it. Everyone hangs on their every word. I think that actors will be able to become lawyers in the near future. Lawyers have no monopoly of the skills needed to present a case."

The reason behind this: advances in information technology. As a result, lawyering is no longer primarily about book-learning – anyone with a bit of brainpower can manage that – but about skills. Who is a rock during negotiations? Who can plead better than anyone else, and think up inventive legal clauses? Who can bring up and combine legal arguments the best? Which lawyers can truly play the role of 'trusted advisor' in companies – at a strategic level? These kind of skills, according to Alberdingk Thijm, is how a lawyer adds value for their clients.

The cost of the lawyer, the judge on the case and his or her level of service – how often has a ruling by this judge been upheld by a higher court? – the most successful legal arguments: these can be found increasingly using data mining and ICT. And the lawyer of the future will need to be able to use them properly. In this sense, technology is no longer a threat, but an opportunity. "The growth in transparency will be really helpful to lawyers when making strategic choices."

At Bureau Brandeis teaching skills is taken very seriously. With assistance from a former judge, they provide coaching in a mock court. "That is of course terrifying, pleading in front of colleagues in your office. But it works. You can work with coaching on your attitude and your tone, and see what works well and what does not work. At the end of the day, the aim is to come across as organised and persuasive. Of course, that is extremely important for us as a litigation practice."

And other law offices are in some cases busily getting to grips with this. "De Brauw does this very well, in my opinion. Trainees there are trained to be multi-faceted, and are no longer locked into one group or section within the practice. That is the modern way to think about your people."