A panel of directors has unanimously agreed there should be compulsory management training for law principals to ensure more competent and ethical practices.
Speaking this morning (27 June) at a forum run by the College of Law at Baker & McKenzie, Management Training Needs for New Principals, panellists discussed the need for mandatory management training in order to reduce client complaints, enhance supervision and create more "well-rounded" law principals.
But one law principal warned too much regulation and training could create lawyers who are unwilling to take risks and satisfy their clients.
"If we push hard on regulation of what they must learn and focus too hard on certain areas, there's a risk that we create lawyers that are inhibited, technocratic people who are either under-confident or unwilling to take the risks clients increasingly want them to take," said Ted Dwyer, principal of Dwyer Consulting.
Steve Mark, NSW Legal Services Commissioner, agreed with Dwyer drawing attention to the "heavy-handed" regulations for practising lawyers in England.
"We do not have that level of prescriptive hard-edged regulatory approach in Australia as it doesn't give the guidance it purports to give," said Mark. "If you prescribe too many rules it doesn't create good cultures that actually deliver professional service."
But the overwhelming consensus of the forum remained that management training is undervalued in the legal profession and a 'competency framework' is required to identify benchmarks of good practice management and provide tools to asses it.
"Research shows firms that have been through compliance auditing exercises have two-thirds fewer complaints than firms that haven't," said John Briton, Queensland Legal Services Commissioner.
Different strategies for different firms
In light of the National Legal Profession Reform, a need was identified for differentiation in management courses to cater for the diversity of practices from larger firms to smaller firms (which make up the 86% of the profession), with larger firms identified as investing more education and training in their principals than smaller firms.
"Legal practice of yesterday is different to today and will be different to tomorrow. Strategies for education need to keep up to date," said Ronwyn North, managing director of Streeton Consulting - one of two keynote speakers at the forum.