Skills from the Past, for the Future — Lawyers and People

A while back, Pat Bassett, surveyed the current thinking among educators about “the skills and values that will be necessary for students to succeed and prosper in [the] turbulent and ever-changing times” of the 21st Century.

He concluded at the time that there was remarkable agreement that those skills are

  • character (self-discipline, empathy, integrity, resilience, and courage);
  • creativity and entrepreneurial spirit;                                                                                 collaboration
  • real-world problem-solving (filtering, analysis, and synthesis);
  • public speaking/communications;
  • teaming; and
  • leadership.

In The Global Achievement Gap, Tony Wagner identifies “seven survival skills” for the 21st Century.They are:

  1. critical thinking and problem-solving;
  2. collaboration across networks and leading by influence;
  3. agility and adaptability;
  4. initiative and entrepreneurialism;
  5. effective oral and written communication;
  6. access and analyzing information;
  7. curiosity and imagination.

When I was reminded of these sources recently and looked back at them (there’s a Howard Gardner book as well, with the terrific title “Five Minds for the Future”), I was struck by how often these same skills are coming up now in discussions about law practice. The recent spate of commentary by Richard Susskind, Bruce MacEwen and Jordan Furlong covers much the same ground.

Most recently – in fact, hot off the presses – is the paper I wrote for UNC Festival of Legal Learning. In that paper, I looked at North Carolina lawyers in the 19th Century; drew conclusions about attributes they shared; and observed that the “turbulent and ever-changing times” of the 19th Century serve as a “distant mirror” for the turbulent and changing times of the 21st Century. Then (in that paper), I used the attributes of those 19th Century lawyers as the basis for suggesting management principles applicable to 21st Century lawyers and law firms.

Mirabile dictu, the same basic set of skills came up yet again (in an only slightly different form).

(The Winslow paper is A Distant Mirror: How 19th Century Lawyers from Guilford and Edgecombe Counties Are Models for the Next Generation of Lawyers & Firms Worldwide.)


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