I recently attended the quarterly meeting of the Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA). Whilst listening to the banter and hoping it would produce inspiration for my next blog post, one delegate quoted an interesting statistic. “80% of solicitors believe they provide good client service; only 40% of clients believe they receive it”. Ouch! It made me wonder if the system for business training for solicitors is any better than it used to be.
I hold up my hands and admit that this subject is a real pot boiler in legal circles. Perhaps one that I should have the good sense to give a wide berth, for fear of the digital consequences. Good sense was never one of my strong points. For me, the subject is and has been a cause celebre throughout my career working with the legal community. It’s personal.
I was unable to verify the statistic from the LSSA meeting. However, I did find a whole host of data on the subject from The Legal Services Consumer Panel. Statistics are great – sometimes. Occasionally they need to be balanced with common sense and a little anecdotal evidence. So, please forgive me if I continue in a personal vein and grant me the indulgence of a few anecdotes…
My first encounter with the legal profession came at the tender age of 18. My father frog-marched me down to a large law firm in central Manchester. He was an astute guy who wished to make both a will and arrangements for the transfer of the majority of his assets to my sister and myself. He’d heard about inheritance tax.
After waiting for 45 minutes, we were greeted by a flustered, terse individual who gave us the impression that we were only there under sufferance. After taking details, we were hastily ushered out and a week later had to return to have the relevant documentation re-drafted correctly. Getting what my father wanted took longer than necessary and our expectations were not managed. The bill landed on time.
Over 30 years later I decided to go through the same process with my own children. Let’s just say the bill landed on time.
Just before I married in my mid 20s I purchased a home in London. It was a new build and my wife and myself were first time buyers. Straightforward you would think. Well before the wedding day we visited our solicitor to settle the details. He assured us all would be completed in time for our return from honeymoon. On returning, we found that no action had been taken by our solicitor due to “pressure of work”. I ended up doing the majority of the conveyancing work myself and yes, I refused to pay the bill.
Since then, I’ve bought and sold several properties in the intervening years and my experience of conveyancing services is mixed.
When I attended university, although I did not study law, I had many good friends who were doing so. Having established that a large number of them eventually intended to build their own legal practices I asked about the LLB curriculum. I was astounded when I found out that it included neither elements of business management nor client care. The same was true when I asked the identical question a few years later whilst the same people were attending law college.
I recently bumped into two of these friends at a reunion and asked the same question about their training contracts, their time as junior solicitors and eventually partners. I also asked about their CPD. You can fill in the gaps. The consensus was that their training in business management, client care and time management was largely down to having a good devil (to use an old-fashioned term) and learning from mistakes. Both were honest enough to admit that the mistakes had sometimes been costly.
Finally, a brief look at the LLB prospectus of my alma mater earlier today revealed there is still no course component that teaches these business skills.
OK, rant over. The real point I’m trying to make is that good client service, good time management and professional business management are essential in the legal profession. Why are they not taught from day 1 at UK universities and law colleges? It’s about putting clients first and that means equipping solicitors with the soft skills required to do that.
On the brighter side, listening to my two friends recently, it seems that their experiences as young solicitors have galvanised them. Soft skills training is a key priority in both their practices and they frequently use courses offered by CPD training companies and The University of Law. They also pointed to the now compulsory Professional Skills Course (PSC) which is designed to build on the foundations laid by the Legal Practice Course (LPC).
This is all encouraging stuff. However, I would still like to see two further advances. The introduction of soft skills training at the earlier university stage of study is the first. The second is compulsory business management skills modules for those wishing to establish their own practice or move into a management position in an existing one. Perhaps an M.B.A. specifically for solicitors? Food for thought – but clearly things are changing.
Mike O’Donnell is an experienced marketing professional who has spent much of his career working in and advising the legal profession. For further biographical details click this link.
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