Are the skills needed by solicitors lacking in today’s legal profession?

Are the skills needed by solicitors lacking in today’s legal profession?

With the legal profession becoming more and more competitive, practitioners are always looking for something to give them an edge above the rest. In our latest Bellwether report: ‘The Good Solicitor’s Skills Set’ we found that the skills needed to help practitioners stand out may not be as difficult to obtain than you might think. 9 out of 10 solicitors believe you must have both good business and human skills, as well as the legal acumen. However, our report questions whether there is a lack of emphasis on those vital business and human skills, due to a “tendency to cling to the status quo, even when beneficial changes, with clearly articulated parameters of success, are identified”.

 

 

What skills make a successful lawyer?

 

According to the solicitors surveyed, both business and human skills are equally important. However, in practice, it was primarily the human skills that were quoted as being the most significant. For example, the top three skills considered to be paramount for success, were:

1. Good at identifying the real problem and the result the client wants

2. Common sense

3. Inspires trust

These skills make it clear that the ability to develop a relationship with clients is considered to be the foundation in the creation of a successful practice. If we consider the client's perspective, they will ask themselves whether they feel they can trust the solicitor's judgement, and whether they can depend on them wholeheartedly. Clients will assume that solicitors know the law inside out, and so in reality, your relationship is far more binary and simple than you might think – as one solicitor articulated: “It’s about having a relationship. It’s about using human skills for a business purpose.”

 

Legal versus business skills: is there a clear winner?

 

Though human skills were identified as a high priority for creating successful client relationships, business skills appear to be overlooked, with solicitors believing that the most important skill are a lawyer's legal aptitude. The only business skill which appeared among the top skills needed for solicitors was an ability in “developing and retaining clients”. This is interesting, as previously identified in our article: Law firms—think like a business first and a law firm second, there is a huge challenge currently in the legal industry around business acquisition and waning client loyalty.

Despite knowing that business skills hold a challenge for the profession, with 91% of respondents stating that business skills are of increasing importance to succeed in the law, the majority of respondents viewed these skills as less essential, or even simply “nice to have”.

In addition to the above, 91% of solicitors also said they are confident about the future, with a further 91% describing the performance of their practice as stable, or growing. It appears that this optimism shows that the profession is “comfortable at the moment”, therefore it “may be that it’s easier to adhere to the status quo: the comfortable mindset of the trusted advisor who solves problems on behalf of their clients”. However, we question that although optimism may be reigning supreme today for many practitioners, could there be more challenges ahead if the appropriate business and succession planning steps are not put in place? 

 

The skills gap

 

There may be an air of optimism in the sector, and a sense of following the status quo, but our survey revealed there is still a perceived skills gap in the profession around the following attributes:

  • Empathy
  • Willingness to listen
  • Speaks plainly, doesn’t use too much legal jargon
  • Good at identifying the real problem and the result the client wants (Identifying the problem and giving the client what they want is the most important attribute for success, according to solicitors, but it’s the 4th most lacking skill)
  • Entrepreneurial skills

 

Respondents also believe that four of the top ten skills lacking in the profession at the moment relate to business:

  • Entrepreneurial skills
  • A good understanding of commerce
  • A service industry mentality
  • Generating business

 

Interestingly the qualities identified as ‘skill gaps’ for the business, are also those identified as the top priorities for success, which suggests “solicitors feel that many in the profession are lacking in a few core areas”.

Our research highlights that although “solicitors can see the problems in the profession, and in their own practices… they are blocked from making changes themselves”. This may be due to good performance and optimism, that no one feels the need to change.

“However, with the same challenges besetting the profession year on year, and alarming disconnects revealing gaps between assumptions and reality, is it time for the profession to own up to the larger reality, beyond the moment-to-moment concerns – however positive they might be – and ensure that the path they are travelling down is the right one? Because it might just be the path towards a flourishing practice, a satisfied client base, and a rewarding professional life”.

 

Read the full report here.

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About the author:

Hannah is one of the Future of Law blog’s digital and technical editors. She graduated from Northumbria University with a degree in History and Politics and previously freelanced for News UK, before working as a senior news editor for LexisNexis.