Profession must maintain and improve its skills base through ongoing training
The profession must seek to maintain and improve its skills base through ongoing training in order to keep pace with clients demands, writes Paul Hally.

One of the key areas that preoccupies the minds of my partners and directors at present is training and investment for the future. Our firm’s ability to continue to meet the needs of our clients is dependent on our ability to hire, train and develop a pool of talented lawyers and support staff who can ensure a timely delivery of advice and solutions to our clients.

The introduction of the PCC by the Society, the requirements of Compulsory Professional development and the availability of the Society’s and many other bodies’ continuing education programmes mean there is no shortage of opportunity open to firms to ensure the provision of a coherent career development programme for all staff and partners. Are we all doing so, at all levels, for all staff and partners, across all the necessary skills disciplines? I suspect the answer for many is no and for others, in which I would include my own firm, yes but we want to do it better.

Training and development for us is a necessary requirement of keeping pace with the changing demands of the world our clients and we operate in. However, we have found that it is also a spur that creates the dynamic for looking at new and improved methods. In creating our approach to training the starting point was to define the knowledge and those skills and competencies, which we believed our lawyers, partners and staff required at each level to discharge their roles. This was then linked in to an appraisal system that at least annually formally monitors progress against that framework and sets objectives and identifies training needs for the year ahead. Adopting this structured approach has helped us to identify common themes and to achieve economies of scale in meeting individual training requirements.

An annual training calendar covering all staff and looking at the acquisition of relevant legal, administrative, managerial and IT skills was then developed and implemented. It is now refreshed and updated annually on the back of the annual appraisals. Much of the training we undertake is in-house rather than using outside courses. This has the benefit of being able to tailor the sessions to our particular requirements. We also create many sessions using leading academics, practitioners in both the law and other disciplines and from client organisations. All of these are designed to provide a wide range of perspective and experience to enrich the basic learning being undertaken. Getting people up and running quickly after they join us is particularly important so we have well established induction procedures. These combine specific training to deal with our systems and presentations delivering information about our firm and our clients. This information is cascaded out to staff both formally and through our intranet. Trainees, for example, joining our firm do not get to their desks in the first week. Working with our trainee intake over the last five years we have constantly refined our initial training for them into a one week ‘Academy’ which prepares them for working in our firm.

Developing these programmes has involved significant time and effort but I would commend the discipline to all managing partners. Local Faculties and Societies must have a key role to play here, in addition to the Society, to meet the demands of those firms which do not have the resources to undertake the exercise alone. Maintaining and developing the skills, and knowledge of our profession is, in my opinion, an essential part of positioning the profession as the principal adviser to our clients. More importantly, having the required knowledge and skills to deliver, with authority, concise relevant advice that the clients have confidence in, is a further element of maintaining the relationship of trust I spoke of in my last article.

The process of annual appraisal and identification of training needs also has as a by-product the creation of an atmosphere of openness to change and development which is essential for our business to remain competitive. I believe that this openness to change is important for the profession as a whole. We need to look at our systems and practices and if these are out-moded and not meeting the needs of our clients we need to change them. A small example of welcome change which I experienced recently involved the Court of Session. Seeking an Administration order late one Friday afternoon the advantage in time saved and accuracy achieved in being able to e-mail the petition to the clerk; allowing for the judge and clerk to have seen it in advance and use the electronic version to produce the subsequent interlocutor is just one small example of how embracing change and new methods can significantly improve our standing as a profession relevant to business in the 21st century.   

Paul Hally is Chief Executive of Shepherd + Wedderburn

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