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Is your training turning off the light for bright young lawyers?

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On our rounds we’re privileged to speak to many senior partners of firms of all shapes and sizes. One topic increasing being voiced is that the new lawyers coming through just simply aren’t as rounded as they should be.

It would appear that the generations currently working their way through the ranks are technically competent but insufficient numbers have the broader skillset to turn them from practitioners to the rounded legal operators to become the industry’s next strong generation of leaders.

So commonly we hear practice leaders expressing confusion at why their teams appear fixated with notching up enough chargeable time to keep their WIP sufficiently high and yet they struggle to prove themselves as more commercial players who possess the skills to engage constructively and help grow a practice outside of technical delivery.

Maybe those leveling this criticism should instead be reflecting on their business model and indeed their own individual involvement in fostering the talent in their firm to achieve what they feel is missing.

Is it such a surprise that once bright, able young graduates’ natural enthusiasm is eroded and their flexibility of thought and capacity for empathy are diminished when they are subject to years of training focused solely on gaining competency within specialised teams in narrow areas of law and when they are governed by a operational processes which demand they justify their existence in terms of client minutes billed?

How often do trainees ever have the opportunity to see a whole transaction through when compliance and regulation take precedence over creative thought or skillful freehand drafting and when exposure to clients and business development is seen as something a partner coverts to the exclusion of others? Why therefore does it come as such a shock that young lawyers do not appear to be developing the skills they need to excel in practice life?

A firm’s senior leaders need to be directly engaged with their trainees, spend time with them, share their hard earnt knowledge and explain the commercial rationale behind deals – both those they strike for their practice and those they negotiate on behalf of clients. They need to mentor their junior team members on how client relationships are forged and retained, recognising that by investing their time in the next generation of leaders, not simply fee earners, a far more generous return for their practices will be achieved.

The profession is changing, the future of work is changing. In the years not so far ahead technology will remove many of the low level chores that form the bedrock of training and it will become ever more vital that we grow rounded, commercially adept lawyers - note the difference from simply commercial lawyers - capable of taking the industry forward in the face of burgeoning competition as well as a constantly evolving legal environment.

And at a time when the future of solicitors’ training is under review, perhaps the SRA should consider the future and broader skill set requirement rather than simply focusing on the traditional technical training as it looks to conclude the content for the forthcoming SQA qualifications.

As senior partners prepare their firms for the future, a fresh look at training contracts will pay huge dividends and ensure that the legal profession is better placed to deliver the value and meet the expectations of our clients will demand in the coming decades.

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