Richard Wolf and Andrea Miskolczi explain why Austria’s Wolf Theiss is training its lawyers to be as commercially savvy as the clients they serve
To be a very good lawyer is no longer enough these days. You also have to be an industry expert and a good manager. There are plenty of excellent lawyers around, but if you have little understanding of the commercial and strategic drivers behind your client’s industry, are your clients being best served?
Similarly, business management and business development knowledge must be at the heart of any firm. International law firms operate more and more like companies, so management and leadership skills are essential for senior lawyers.
The European landscape is grabbing the headlines as the crisis continues to rage in the PIGS countries (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain) and spreads into the wider eurozone, and it is business development expertise and client relationship skills that will help lawyers stay ahead of the competition. That is why training is so important. Lawyers need to have the right tools, be informed about industry-related topics, understand what good client service is, be able to tune into different cultures and practices across the Continent and be intuitive enough to anticipate legal changes.
To give our lawyers these tools and ensure they have the right skills to meet clients’ needs, Wolf Theiss has set up a ’School of Excellence’.
Our first formal training programme started in 2008 when we created the Wolf Theiss School of Finance to reflect the high level of competency required in our core financial services practice. Now mandatory for all junior finance lawyers, it offers several weeks of training, covering topics such as lending, project finance, capital markets and derivatives. As well as a focus on international regulation and the practice of finance law, the programme provides an opportunity for young lawyers to discuss national legal differences in their respective regions. In 2012 we will also train our lawyers in three additional legal fields: corporate, property and dispute resolution.
The focus of our School of Excellence is not only on legal expertise, but also on the teaching of industry-specific knowledge and entrepreneurship. Take, for example, a lawyer advising on an energy deal.
They need to understand the differing complexities of coal and gas projects or the unique nature of power transport to provide the best legal advice. Accordingly, our training includes a focus on understanding the dominant industries of our clients.
Apart from understanding clients’ businesses it is equally important to understand the legal business and the tools for developing it.
Training in commercial business practice is also vital for junior lawyers and senior associates, and is something we are introducing for the first time. All lawyers need to be commercially savvy, so we include modules on transaction management, firm management and business development.
If lawyers receive training in a law firm’s marketing tools and are aware of the most important aspects of client relationship management, they will be better placed to build their own brand and business book.
It is important to us that we develop business-minded lawyers with an entrepreneurial attitude, who understand their clients’ businesses. A lawyer who understands the commercial aspects of running a business will be better equipped to deliver cost-effective services.
We operate in 12 offices in various jurisdictions. Much of our business is cross-border or international and our clients expect to receive consistent knowledge and services, whatever office they are dealing with. Our training addresses the need for lawyers to be equally familiar with local laws in Bulgaria or the Czech Republic as they are with the standard documentation of the Loan Market Association or the legislation around public takeover offers.
The competitive environment we live in means even excellent legal knowledge is not sufficient to maintain top-standard industry status. To retain this distinction we knew we needed to invest time and money improving our in-house training and add greater value to both our clients and to our lawyers.
The Wolf Theiss School of Excellence will be implemented fully in 2012 and our first formalised business training as part of the programmebegins in January.
While the training will help lawyers develop their legal and non-legal skills, we hope they can also draw personal satisfaction from developing wider entrepreneurial skills, driving new business and building a personal brand.
Richard Wolf is a partner and member of the Wolf Theiss management board and Andrea Miskolczi is project manager for the Wolf Theiss School of Excellence