Links in radical move to reject over-specialisation

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  • People specialise far too early; clients want people who understand where things fit into their businesses. Too long overdue, let's hope they follow this through.

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  • The move to specialising happened for several reasons folks and I don't see those reasons going away. Clients expect their lawyers to not only be experts in the law and have a good commercial understanding of the industry but also to be part of the scene in that industry. No way can someone achieve that if they don't focus and focus hard. Also, what about those PQE3 yrs and above who are now specialists? Are they all going to be retrained? This is a move for the downturn, when things pick up there will be a real demand for specialists again.

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  • Bolt on specialisations are very useful but I agree with comments that a basic "general" understanding of all manner of contracts/legal issues is key to making a good lawyer. I am sick to death of the inability of so many lawyers to understand the most basic of documents or principles outside of their "specialisation". Its irritating and leads to overduplication and crap work.

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  • Those posters who believe this is just another cynical partner move are mistaken, as to a material degree are those who make reference to the demands of the client for the level of specialisation which has become the norm.
    The proposal is to address a need which has been brewing for 15 years or more but has been masked by the broader based experience of older partners
    Some 8 or 9 years ago I had over a six moth period, similar conversations with five departmental heads of MC, SC and top 20 practices. The content of them was broadly similar and could be summed up as "why is it that senior associates and junior partners frequently have real difficulty in running transactions if they veer off the beaten track?".
    It has for even longer been customary for meetings to be attended "mob handed" even when the involvement of the relevant specialisations are simple and peripheral to the transaction. This in part comes from an total fear of having anything to do with anything however simple and however well explained by the relevant specialist
    Consider the following
    • Partners (now in their 50s) trained in the 70's and early 80's.
    • Many posters may find it difficult to contemplate that a top 10 firm at that time might have only 30 or so partners
    • Training in smaller firms (as the top 10 were by today's standards) is inevitably broader and more general
    • The rigid six months rotation system (which has the unfortunate side effect that once a trainee has found his feet and is becoming useful he moves on to another seat) was not quite as prevalent or rigid
    • Articled Clerks (as they then were) were given much more responsibility and frequently, less supervision then has become the norm in large firms in the last 20 years
    • many may remember sleepless nights not from "all nighters" but from worry over a matter , unpleasant as it was it had its advantages, for the fear arising from feeling responsible for the matter to the client certainly sharpens your skills even more than any fear of the relevant partner,
    • Those training them (through having qualified say 10 - 25 years earlier) had experienced an even more generalist training, for example almost all firms had active private client departments in those days
    It has always been interesting to note the position of Slaughters in the profitability and other league tables as they have always tried not to fall into the specialisation trap, after all look at the breadth of practise of Nigel Boardman who must come in most solicitors list of the top 10 commercial lawyers of the last 10 years or so
    The only other exception which springs to mind is the quality of the training given at Gouldens their trainees and less than 2 PQE associates seemed far more able to run a transaction than their contemporises at any other top 30 firm. It became clear that the absence of adhering rigidly to the rotation system. however I have no experience of them since their takeover by Jones Day
    Those posters who express concern as to how Links are going to achieve their objective have a very valid point it is going to be extremely difficult, particularly if the attitude of their associates is similar to the posters who are so clearly antagonistic to the concept. Bing cynical for a moment, perhaps it is only in such a tight job market that it is possible to force though a change of this nature. Notwithstanding the job market it will require a high degree of "buy in" and commitments from Links partners for even a partial achievements f their stated objective.

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  • It will help associates to see things in perspective, not only from a specialised angle. This is significant advantage that should not be neglected.

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  • On the face of it, this seems like an excellent move, in keeping with the needs of the times. It will deal with the problem of clients who don't want to treat Associates as billing lawyers, and with the problem of Associates, who havn't been educated up to the level that they could equal billing lawyers.

    Dig just a centimeter deeper, and you can see the glaring flaws in this scheme of things.

    First, no matter what clients want today, and no matter what Associates want today, lawyers in developed economies will be points of sale for legal services over the medium term (0-30 years). Points of sale personnel are required to be intuitive, creative problem solvers and possesors of a functioning brain that deals with exceptions.

    How would generalists grow to develop all these traits? They would be even more hindered than the current lot.

    Second, the outsourcing ternd was never rolled out to convert staff in developed economies into process drones. They are required to remain critical as people, contribute as people and bring value to the table that no amount of process can.

    Instead of wasting time copying LPO practices, law firms in developed economies should stop recruiting junior staff, and focus on lateral hires.

    This will force law students to re-skill, and those who do not leave the profession would end up learning critical IT, Process Design, KM skills the profession desperately needs.

    This will also force the legal education industry to build law students up to the point, where their work would be of such a good quality, that clients would agree to let Associates bill.

    What am proposing is tremendously unfair to junior lawyers and current law students, but if it is not done, our profession will be beset with process and training related issues for the next 30 years.

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