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UK law students to be taught management skills

Training to be provided in client relationship, project and risk management  

25 June 2013

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

The UK system of legal education needs to do more to develop business and management skills in students, according to the newly-published Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) report.

Commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Bar Standards Board (BSB) and ILEX Professional Standards (IPS), the report says the development of business and management skills in law students, while widely acknowledged to be important, were “not well embedded” across formal legal services education and training (LSET) structures.

In particular, the research found that training needs to be provided in client relationship management, project management and risk management.

LSET providers also need to focus on developing skills in legal research and digital literacy and communication, the LETR noted. Commercial and social awareness were highlighted as needing to be made an “explicit” feature of training at the Legal Practice Course (LPC) stage.

“Educational establishments which are privileged to deliver qualifying law degrees are leaving quality assurance to the profession,” said Desmond Hudson, chief executive at the Law Society.

“The feedback we are getting from law firms shows that graduates are lacking the skills expected of them when they commence employment.”

Added professor Nigel Savage, president at The University of Law: “The way we buy and sell legal services is undergoing radical change and it’s important therefore that those emerging from law schools are properly prepared to respond to the challenges.

“The major issue now is what the regulators will do with the report and how, if at all, they use it to deliver their own strategic plans.”

Business and management skills

The research found that there is a need to develop legal services training in client relationship management, project management and risk management.

“Although it was not ultimately considered necessary or proportionate to create a continuing obligation to address client relationship skills across the piece, the importance of these skills still needs to be stressed,” the report said.

“Within any system of entity regulation, it is recommended that close attention is paid to the entity’s ability to link client feedback and complaints data to individual performance and training needs.

“It follows that entities should be encouraged to be far more proactive than the majority currently are in collecting and using client feedback to enhance performance.”

The LETR also found that there is a need to develop training in the “higher organisational and leadership skills” needed by lawyers taking on senior management roles. This would be provided at appropriate points in their careers.

Another issue raised by the report was the need for commercial awareness to be taught as part of the LPC.

“The evidence points to a clear need to make commercial awareness a more explicit feature of training at the LPC stage, particularly for those who are following a corporate and commercial pathway,” it said.

The LETR describes commercial awareness as a “a composite attribute that includes numeracy, financial literacy, understanding the general commercial environment in which law firms and entities operate, as well as being alive to the business interests of specific clients, and a better understanding of the transformational role technology can play in delivering legal services”.

Also highlighted in the report was the need for greater emphasis to be placed on developing communications skills throughout LSET.

“Writing’, in this context is not confined to spelling, punctuation and grammar but includes aspects of clarity, style, content and the critical thinking and analysis which inform the document drafted,” the report noted.

Legal research and digital literacy skills were also highlighted as needing to be addressed at “a number of stages” in LSET.

“More work should be undertaken to ensure that such skills are appropriately grounded,” it said.

Commenting on the LETR, Charles Plant, chair of the SRA’s board, said: "The report indicates areas that need addressing if we are to ensure that legal education and training remain fit for purpose in the radically altering world of legal services, nationally and internationally.

“The SRA needs to ensure that it is setting the right standards for modern legal practice for solicitors and others delivering legal services, that it is using effective mechanisms to assure the standards which it sets, and that it is not imposing unnecessary restrictions.”

LSB chair David Edmonds said: “This report underlines the need for greater variety and flexibility of approach to ensure that both new and existing lawyers attain and retain the necessary practical and intellectual skills to serve the public effectively.”

The LETR provides a fundamental, evidence-based review of education and training requirements across regulated and non-regulated legal services in England and Wales.

 

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