Challenge the training status quo
Are we caught in a loop of fixed thinking when it comes to how we train and develop the lawyers of tomorrow, asks Louise Hadland
The standard suite of business skills for lawyers - how to use IT packages appropriately for the task in hand, how to network, and, if you are lucky, how to deal with difficult conversations - does have its place and is valuable, particularly for graduates cutting their teeth. Indeed, over recent years positive inroads to effective development have been made by thoughtful and insightful learning and development initiatives.
However, this approach to business skills training won't stand firms in good stead for the future. This is partly because we expect that legal services will be delivered differently in the future.
Clients are driving lower prices and firms are having to work out how to operate more efficiently while maintaining high standards of client service, so necessity will be the mother of invention when it comes to training.
But looking at becoming more efficient is purely reactive to what is happening now and will only drive some short-term requirements in what lawyers are going to have to understand around project management and business improvement.
Many might then argue that to provide lawyers with the skills they will need in the future we need to know exactly what the future holds, but therein lies the problem - we can't know what we don't know.
So, what we should be doing is training our lawyers to deal with the unknown and ambiguous, neither of which most lawyers like to deal with. Many of us will have observed that lawyers are most comfortable when dealing with facts.
But we need to start thinking about how to manage ambiguity, so we need to train our lawyers in this subject area, which will include how to think innovatively when it comes to the future complexities of delivering our business. The one constant is likely to be the need for high-performing teams.
One of the major breakthroughs in the last ten years has been the realisation that sole trader lawyers sitting within larger firms have limited ability to drive ambitious goals. The successful future of any legal service is meeting and exceeding client expectations. This continues to be a team activity and the most successful firms focus multiple, collaborating teams on the single client. Strategic dexterity
We tend to think about the 'doing' side of things when we talk about training lawyers in business skills. Going forward, to achieve these high-performing teams, we need our lawyers to be 'present' for their people, which means being good managers and moving away from 'doing' and towards 'being' - being interested in and engaging with their people.
Interestingly, highlighted in the Harvard Business Review in May this year was a piece on managing conflicting demands. Workplaces are becoming more complex, fast paced, and IT orientated. If we think what we have now is a technological world, it is currently beyond our comprehension how much more technologically complex it will become, and lawyers, like all professions, must adapt.
In essence, we are obligated to ensure that we have lawyers who are adaptable, open, and accepting, used to dealing with change and complexity and equal yet conflicting demands. Therefore, in adapting and producing lawyers fit for 21st-century legal service delivery, we will need to ensure they are proficient in strategic dexterity.
Strategic dexterity is about not having all the pieces but being able to accept ambiguity and having the vision to deliver fast-paced change while keeping your teams on board;
it is about readily and easily moving from the low-level detail to the big picture.
In considering and preparing development for our lawyers that will make them effective in the complex world in which they will need to operate, we need to apply our own innovative thinking and challenge the development status quo.