COVID-19 and Rethinking Lawyer Training Programmes
The issues common to traditional lawyer trainee programmes have been thrown into stark relief by the COVID-19 pandemic. How should they be addressed?
The last three months have most likely changed the way we live and work forever. As a profession we have turned to technologies such as video conferencing that many within the legal services professions might have previously seen as a suboptimal way of servicing clients, but which turn out to have found favour. Mark Lello, Partner and Notary Public at Parker Bullen LLP, explores the failings of traditional law training programmes and how the COVID-19 crisis has exposed them.
Necessity has also seen calls for changes in the law, for example in for example in the move towards electronic signing and witnessing of wills, something that we have been demanding for a long time, because even before COVID-19 many clients had mobility issues. I should add that we still see a similar need for change in notarial services.
But perhaps the most stark change is how we have had to manage our business in times of crisis, and how this has called for skills which are lacking by too many within our profession.
Issues Traditional Training Programmes Often Fail to Address
Crises of one sort or another are cyclical. Thirteen years ago we suffered a global financial meltdown and nineteen years ago the world was shocked by the events of 9/11. Thankfully such crises are infrequent, but the result is that there will be a large number of Partners across the UK who have never experienced business turmoil, and have limited experience and knowledge to call upon.
Crises of one sort or another are cyclical.
But it’s not just crises that many lawyer trainee programmes fail to address. Practical issues such as winning new business, client handling and how to run a meeting are often learned by osmosis rather than in a structured manner.
Our experience also shows that many legal issues are not discussed or are simply skirted over in traditional education environments, including the thorny issue of when a contract exists even though there is no formal contract and the likes of quantum meruit.
Another problem that often needs addressing is the fact that law is very siloed. The overarching needs of both private and corporate clients are often ignored as the solicitor does not have the depth of experience to talk through the issues. A prime example of this is the universal need for a Power of Attorney which is equally important for owners of businesses and arguably should be put in place at the same time as a shareholder agreement.
Implementing Training to Complement Experience
The goal of the Parker Bullen Training Academy (PBTA) is to complement the ‘on the job’ experience with content that trainees may not usually come across, but which is nonetheless necessary to add value to their clients, colleagues and employer on a day to day basis or when a crisis occurs.
In part the training modules have been designed around the unknowns I wished I had been told when I was a junior lawyer. Good examples of this are the importance of marketing as an integral part of one’s practice and the ‘internal market’, not just the external customers, for your services – making sure your colleagues know you.
Having to furlough trainees has presented its own opportunities and challenges. The challenge has been to continue to deliver SRA training while not breaching the conditions of the furlough, so participation has been optional. The benefits were plainly measured in time, both for the trainees and the instructors. An additional benefit was seen in giving everyone a sense of purpose and as a result the feedback has been exceptionally positive.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
When redesigning the PBTA we looked at other organisations which had similar business issues and customer dynamics to ours, to see if we could learn from their experience and knowledge base.
For Parker Bullen the way Goldman Sachs approach training fit perfectly, especially their small business course. What we found particularly useful is the way Goldman Sachs addresses the likes of developing employees for future leadership roles, and how colleagues and clients may behave in the workplace.
We have also designed the new training scheme to be flexible and to adapt and evolve alongside the needs of the business and our clients. A good example of the latter is in developing a module on franchising, as we have a strong presence in the military locally, and many ex forces personnel choose franchising as employment post their service.
In conclusion, out of the adversity of COVID-19 we are trying to build a better and stronger business. Integral to this is looking at the training programme and seeing how it can be improved to provide our future leaders with the skills to drive the business forward at a much earlier age.