Feel the learn

Fiercer competition for work and talent in an increasingly globalised business environment means firms need to provide their lawyers with a broader-based skill set than previously

Over the past decade the skill set essential to being a great lawyer has evolved. While legal excellence will always be vital, other attributes have increasingly come into focus.

Today the ability to lead, motivate and mentor teams, while project ­managing and running a profitable business, are more important than ever. The reason for this change is a gradual increase in competition, a trend that has accelerated in the ­economic environment of the past few years.

Competition affects many parts of the sector. There is competition for work – both winning and keeping it – as well as ­competition for the best talent, all on an increasingly global stage. To equip people for this business ­environment, learning and development teams at law firms must reassess training programmes constantly to ensure they address these skills.

Competition for work

In a competitive environment clients can demand more. They expect excellent levels of service at a competitive price. This means that law firms need people who can manage matters as efficiently as possible to ensure clients get the best possible value. ­Delivering value involves understanding clients’ wider business priorities as well as their legal ­concerns and working as a team with them to achieve those goals.

Traditionally great law firms have ­longstanding, strong relationships with clients. While institutional relationships are still vital, pressure has increased for ­general counsel to demonstrate that, not only are they are receiving great service, but also that this service is being delivered at the best price.

Lawyers need to highlight their skills more regularly in the form of a pitch – and negotiate the best combination of client service and cost – to win the business. It is important to provide opportunities to ­practise making these pitches, drawing on the experience of experts. This applies both to senior lawyers, to refresh skills and share best practice, and to more junior lawyers, who can build the skill set in good time for a successful career.

Of course, in any customer relationship responsiveness is key. Clients expect quick turnaround times and technology can help lawyers meet their expectations. ­Technology can help in other ways too, for example by enabling training courses to be built and run in a single location but be replicated elsewhere.

E-learning courses are available in any location at any time, while digital video can be used to capture best practice and ­experience, and share it. Meanwhile, web conferencing technology means overseas ­participants can easily join local attendees.

Competition for talent

Lawyers who join leading firms are undoubtedly bright and ambitious. When they arrive they want to develop their skills and build on what they have learnt at law school. The training available to them is likely to be an important factor in selecting which firm to join.

Helping these talented people to nurture their careers in an increasingly mobile ­market is a critical skill. Learning in a formal training course is imperative, but so is the chance to continue to develop skills in ­everyday work.

Partners and senior ­associates need to coach team members as they refine their skills and translate this learning from ­training courses to meeting business requirements.

Leadership qualities are particularly important when times are challenging to direct and inspire teams to focus on work that will lead to longer-term success.

Competition in a global market

International law firms have operated ­globally for many years and the business environment for these practices involves a lot of cross-border work.

Consequently lawyers are moving to other parts of the world more frequently and the ability to manage teams in which members are based in multiple ­locations is becoming ever-more important.

In such a world the speed at which ­commercial products such as financial and investment structures and their legal ­structures are exported, standardised and adapted across the globe is accelerating.

Clients want teams that can operate across multiple jurisdictions while retaining a deep understanding of local legal systems and working cultures. Global training is important to set a consistent standard of excellence, while local, regional, practice area and sector-focused training is key to ensuring the deep level of expertise now required by clients.

Julia Clarke is learning and development partner at Clifford Chance and head of The Academy, the firm’s global training brand