Training for greater autonomy

Professor Ray Wild advises on the options available to lawyers who are seeking to improve their managerial knowledge. Ray Wild is principal of Henley Management College.

Lawyers have not been trained as managers, yet for many management has become a significant job requirement. This is why, despite the falling number of managers in traditional roles in business – particularly middle managers – there is an increasing need and demand for management education and development.

Management as a responsibility is becoming more and more widespread. The reasons for this diffusion are clear and they all apply to lawyers and legal practices.

Commercial pressures have been increasing and those whose prime concern is their professional responsibility are also now being asked to satisfy commercial requirements.

The result is that more and more people whose concern was primarily with the effectiveness of what they did are now required to satisfy both effectiveness and efficiency requirements. This often results in increased competition, pressures on prices and increased customer concern for quality.

Last year's Coopers & Lybrand survey clearly identified that this was a concern for the legal profession, finding that many firms had totally failed to improve their efficiency. The growth of conditional fee agreements will only increase the pressure on firms to improve their management.

Organisations are also de-layering, so where managerial roles did exist, levels are being removed and responsibility and autonomy is being delegated to other people. People are being required to plan and control their work, rather than working to other people's plans.

Public accountability pressures are also increasing and customers now can look for some services from other sources. As a result, lawyers are increasingly concerned about their management education.

Many have realised that their initial training did not provide courses on even basic management principles. They have entered practice without having learnt how to run their own business or understanding how their clients run theirs.

Lawyers are waking up to the fact that they need to learn about strategy and marketing, things they had previously thought had little relevance to them. A few, of course, are aiming to become managers, because they have recognised that it is necessary to do so to get to the top of their organisation.

There are a number of different types of courses that lawyers can take to acquire the managerial skills they need to survive in today's marketplace.

Initially, they can choose to take either a specific or a general course. A specific course will be designed for one specific profession or industry. It will relate to and derive from issues and problems with which one group of similarly concerned people will be familiar.

A general course will be intended for individuals from a range of backgrounds. Its main advantage will be that individuals will learn different things from others and perhaps see things in different ways. Their traditions and habits are more likely to be challenged.

There are also open and tailored courses. An open programme will have participants from a range of organisations and perhaps also countries. The range of experiences will be wide, the cross-learning potential will be great and the content more generic and less sector-specific.

A tailored programme will have been designed for a particular organisation. It will address that organisation's agenda, needs and priorities. Only people from that organisation will be on the course. In general, tailored courses tend to go with specific ones, but not necessarily vice versa.

The better courses will help individuals and organisations decide what are the appropriate approaches in their present circumstances. The success of any course depends substantially on the commitment of the participants. Colleges know that lawyers, like members of other professions, are often not willing participants on courses, so they have found ways to ensure that their initial reluctance does not prevent them from learning.