The lack of training in business skills is a major shortcoming in the education of most lawyers, and “without the capacity to run the business of law, the profession in Australia will suffer”.
That is the key finding of the Legal Business Leaders Roundtable, recently hosted by the College of Law, which surmised that there are “yawning gaps” between the demand and supply of lawyers and specialists trained in management and leadership within the legal profession.
The business of law should be added to the practice of law, COL said in a statement.
The roundtable identified the following challenges currently facing the legal services industry: that the “shortcomings of the traditional legal services model are now exposed and the lack of real management expertise is a threat to the industry”, and the legal services industry “needs outside help – either people with specialist skills must be brought in, or the specialist skills must be brought to people in the profession”.
Legal skills are not necessarily evidence of good leadership, the findings went on. Many firms have many partners who are technically excellent, “but who are less able to lead or set a direction and strategy for their firm”, it said.
Further, many lawyers do not appreciate multidisciplinary input into the delivery of legal services, COL noted.
“Lawyers need to learn to collaborate with professions such as technologists, management consultants, project managers, financial experts, human resources and marketing experts.”
Employees from disciplines other than the law need to be accepted as professionals in their own right, it continued, and if the legal services industry “does not respond to the career needs of these professionals they will be lost, either to a competitor firm or other industries.”
Finally, “talented, digitally-savvy and engaged young graduates are a potential goldmine for firms”, COL said, while also noting that “their talents are not being properly or fully used. Firms do a bad job of listening and implementing the ideas of this new generation.”
Responding to the findings, COL CEO Neville Carter AM said the next five to 10 years are crucial for the legal services industry.
“We are seeing the relentless demand for change and adaptation of the commercial world colliding with an industry characterised by its inertia and steeped in tradition and conservatism. As our roundtable confirmed, the industry has begun to move, but just not fast enough,” Mr Carter said.
“Law firms and legal departments are under increasing pressure to deliver faster, better, cheaper service while becoming more efficient, predictable and agile. Legal advisors are now expected to think like business people and to be business partners who understand the drivers of the commercial world. They must have emotional intelligence, negotiate, collaborate, manage relationships and solve problems.”
“The business of law is no longer just about being profitable or sticking to a budget. The managers of law firms and legal departments need to run fiscally responsible operations that make full use of technology while staying orientated towards the needs of the people in the team. It sounds like a lot to do, but the firms that fail will not have a much of a practice left.”