New skills essential as legal training adapts to changed landscape

Today’s Lawyers need a raft of skills beyond just legal knowledge for a much changed world. A world which sees the old stereotype consigned to history. Legal training provider Kaplan Altior looks at the essential skills for a lawyer in 2017 and beyond.

Many within the legal profession can get frustrated with the stereotypes of law. This pigeon hole tries to paint a picture of a profession still stuck in a mindset of a generation ago, but nothing can be further from the truth. As legal training providers, we are seeing a seismic shift in the way those in law are preparing for the ever changing demands of the modern world.

The stereotype heralding back to flock wallpapered offices of the 1970 and 80s is a hugely different landscape to the one inhabited by today’s modern lawyers eager to make their mark.

In a busy world, where time and money have never been under so much scrutiny, we now see a profession adapting to modern pressures and Lawyers need a vast array of highly honed skills vital for them to thrive.

The skills we now focus on have in the past generally been filed under: “optional extras”, but in today’s modern environment, those tasked with leading law practices now appreciate these once, ‘optional extras’ are now necessities.

So what are these skills?

Well, there are many, but the top five in our opinion are:
• strong interpersonal skills
• negotiation skills
• management skills
• commercial/financial acumen and
• The ability to adapt to technological advances.

Such skills can drive a law firm to unparalleled opportunity. To use the often quoted term: “Walking the walk, as well as talking the talk.” it’s a case now of needing style and substance.

Clients need to see their Lawyer really give valuable input. They want to work with lawyers who are switched on to the world around them, the financial pressures, the competitive tensions and an understanding that we work in a world that operates at break neck speed, with technology pressing on pretty-much all businesses and individuals.

These are skills that are not taught at law school. We’re more likely to know them as ‘soft skills,’ but now it’s becoming apparent that they are, ‘essential skills.’

So, we are now seeing a vital balancing act, one where there is technical competence, but it has to be matched with behavioural confidence.

We think it’s fair to say that whilst a lack of technical competence will expose you to risk, the lack of behavioural confidence could lead to failure, as the more savvy lawyers hoover up the opportunities. This means that many lawyers are making tough decisions to adapt to the new shift or face being left behind.

CPD shaking up industry

Added to this conundrum is the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s statement of solicitor competence of March 2015 and the removal of compulsory CPD hours in October 2016.

Many law firms are still taking all this in and coming to terms with the idea that you cannot just rely on a box ticking 16 hours of CPD to meet the new SRA competence requirements.

The new world is instead putting the onus on lawyers to ensure they are not only competent in the context of their practice area but also have a range of skills that are in line with their level of qualification.

This more introspective form of development will invariably lead to people identifying their own skills gaps and then taking up more appropriate courses as a result.

In conclusion, it means the SRA are creating a culture in which solicitors have to turn learning into knowledge, and knowledge that sticks. This cannot be learnt in a book.

Making sure learning turns into knowledge by active participation

In this changing world, training providers have to prove their worth to law firms. It is not enough to now expect a huge block of training to be delivered to intelligent people who might be there in body, but not in spirit.

After all, in the old school of training, too much of what is learnt on a course is soon forgotten.

A quote we like comes from Benjamin Franklin, one of the United States founding fathers;

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn,” he said.

Centuries later, training providers now need to adopt this way of thinking. A delegate can only be fully engaged if they understand the knowledge but also, only if they are able to participate in the teaching of it.

Face to face training, where a lawyer is taken away from distractions of his or her caseload, is still the best way. Worrying about Mr Smith about to scream down the phone because his house sale has not gone through is hardly conducive to learning. Removing one from the everyday tasks, networking with fellow Lawyers and learning from real-world experienced trainers is.

Uninterrupted quality involvement is vital and a fundamental part of learning. Gone are the days of a tutor relying on a textbook and projector. Active teaching lightens up the mind, especially for those uncomfortable in a traditional learning environment.

Such education not only makes a proper imprint on the minds of those taking part, it gives value for money and a better chance of success for both the individual and for the firm.

For instance, an analogy we use is, “You wouldn’t just read a book about how to swim and jump in a pool,” and that’s how we view skills training.

Thankfully, many law firms realise this ethos on training is a wise investment and are acutely aware of how the shift in onus to their own requirements is in fact giving them much more autonomy to steer their own ship.

Yes, change to regulation and tradition may bring a sense of fear but rejecting it will only bring new concerns and a lack of highly skilled and knowledgeable lawyers. With active participation and professional development now a key part of any competent legal career, firms, lawyers and training providers are now able to work closely together to identify and rectify skill gaps, helping to create a future of first class professionals delivering a first class service.

Learning new skills keeps people alive, creates a positive environment where they can thrive and as the saying goes, originally coined by philosopher Sir Francis Bacon, in the 16th century: “Knowledge is power.”

In a changing legal landscape, this has never been so true.

For more information on how Kaplan Altior can help you and your firm, please visit our website or call us on 02920 451000.



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