Solicitors ignoring importance of business skills

Whittle: Practitioners are often blind to their own individual failings

There is a “fundamental disconnect” among solicitors between the skills they think they need and the ones they actually need, new research has suggested.

A focus on human rather than business skills reflected a desire to “cling to the status quo” instead of changing with the times.

The latest in the series of LexisNexis 2019 bellwether reports, The good solicitor’s skill set, concluded that the human and legal skills its research found topped the list of desirable attributes, should have placed second to business skills most lacking in the profession.

Polling 176 solicitors, as well as conducting in-depth interviews, on issues facing the SME legal market, the report found high optimism for the future.

However, while solicitors agreed that both business and human skills were equally important, they considered legal and human skills a higher priority.

More than nine out of 10 zeroed in on identifying the real problem facing clients and the result they wanted as crucial to solicitors thriving within their profession.

The following four of the top five – common sense, inspiring trust, a willingness to listen, and use of normal language rather than legal jargon – were essentially human skills, the report pointed out.

Just one purely business skill, namely developing and retaining clients, appeared in the top 10.

“Solicitors consider business skills, in the abstract, to be of critical importance to success. When pressed, however, respondents view many of the individual business skills as less essential, or even simply ‘nice to have’,” the report said.

That meant among the lower-ranked skills were being good at cashflow/cost management, a good understanding of commerce and finance, being good at generating business, having a service industry mentality, and – last of all – demonstrating entrepreneurial skills.

The report’s author, John Whittle, LexisNexis’s market development director, said the failure to put business skills higher was emblematic of their reluctance to embrace the necessary mindset to succeed in a rapidly changing legal landscape and instead be short-sighted.

Solicitors were displaying a “tendency to cling to the status quo”, he claimed.

He continued: “The path to success is visible to them, they’re just not able to clear some of the hurdles in their way…

“Perhaps you think you don’t need to change because you’re performing well at the moment… But the result is… you’re standing still.”

Mr Whittle said research showed year after year that “practitioners can identify the issues, but are often blind to their own individual failings in these core areas of legal provision”.

They would do well to take a broader view, he suggested, “because it might just be the path towards a flourishing practice, a satisfied client base, and a rewarding professional life”.

Changes later this year that open up the market to unregulated firms employing solicitors made it “more critical than ever that law firms and individual solicitors take a long, hard look at what really drives success.

“The time when to do nothing was an option is rapidly disappearing,” he said.

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