Training new lawyers for long term success

The start of the new school year brings a flurry of activity for parents with the purchase of new school uniforms, shoes, and yet another pencil case. For children, there is the excitement and anxiety of the academic year ahead.  This is not dissimilar to when newly recruited lawyers arrive at their first law firm, wanting above all else to make a good impression at the start of their careers.

The role of the managing partner is in many ways similar to that of a benevolent Headmaster, and yet, induction into the firm is usually delegated to human resources personnel, or a team leader. 

We all remember our favourite schoolteacher, the one who took time to nurture and be a positive influence during our school days. I wonder how many of us reminisce as fondly about our first training principal.

The managing partner can play a significant role in helping new lawyers to learn the ropes and find their feet. Learning the names of all new recruits in advance of meeting them is an obvious but often overlooked first step. 

As leader of the firm, the managing partner should be able to outline the history of the firm, and to clearly describe the culture and framework of behaviours and guiding principles by which the firm operates. Being able to give examples with a good story or two, will keep things interesting. 

The managing partner should be able to explain the direction and strategic key objectives of the firm as well as the way to the kitchen and the chocolate biscuits. 

Induction is an opportunity to really listen to the interests of eager new lawyers, both professionally and externally, and to encourage from the outset a healthy work life balance. Showing that someone else`s views are valued and respected is a key foundation to any successful professional relationship.

Taking time to ask, “what do you think makes an effective lawyer?” may throw up a few surprises.

The latest Bellweather report titled “The Good Solicitor’s Skill Set” published by Lexis Nexis suggests that there is a “fundamental disconnect” between skill set ideals and reality among lawyers.

For example, the research concluded that 9 out of 10 lawyers agree that good business and human skills are important for success, but in practice human skills were considered a higher priority.

Of the 22 attributes put to the survey sample, 4 in 5 of the qualities identified by respondents as top priorities for success are human skills, including common sense (89%) inspires trust (87%) willingness to listen (84%) and speaks plainly without jargon (81%) However, “legal skills” was identified as the the number one skill for success (91%).

While lawyers say they believe business skills is of critical importance to success, less than half of the survey sample (40%) thought that service industry skills are important. The ability to generate business (48%) and entrepreneurial skills were only considered as priority by (35%) of respondents.*

My view is that treating others with respect, fair play, honesty integrity, good communication, responsiveness and reliability, combined with legal knowledge and technical ability, are at the core of all successful lawyers who have the ability to engender the trust of their clients. 

Reminding new lawyers that their individual brand and the brand of the firm is reflected by their behaviours both inside and outside of the office is an important early lesson to emphasise. 

The skills gap identified by the Bellweather research should become a priority for those with responsibility for providing training for ALL lawyers, not just new recruits. 

It is not what lawyers think about themselves, but how others perceive them that is critical to their future success. 

*Source – Bellweather Report 2019

Kimberley Williams

©Williams Wroe

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