Having worked in the legal profession in both the private and public sector for over 30 years, starting as a solicitor, then partner, manager and now a director, I truly understand the necessity of strong management and leadership in any busy business.
When I first started out as a lawyer, like many other professions, management and leadership skills were the last things on my mind. It was only as I grew more senior and took on more responsibility within my career that I realised ‘learning as you go’ would not suffice; I needed practical and theoretical knowledge and skills of leadership and management.
When my sector as a whole was faced with significant public funding cuts, we realised that legal aid practices would need to be run more as commercial businesses than they had before. With no formal management and leadership training incorporated into qualifying exams, very little emphasis placed upon developing management and leadership skills and an average work week of over 50 hours, making that transition would no mean feat. Especially when employers in the legal sector already couldn’t fill half of their management vacancies for a lack of skills amongst applicants in 2013, significantly more than the typical UK employer.
My first-hand experience of the sector, as well as my work with both employers and employees at the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG), has led me to believe that organisations with experience of those issues – such as employers or employer representative bodies like us -are the best people to take the lead in addressing these issues . This was our motivation for developing a training course specifically designed for managers and future managers within the legal sector.
Although the LAPG Certificate in Practice Management was designed specifically for those in the legal profession, the lessons learned through piloting a management and leadership training course for busy professionals can be applied to any employer looking to improve the management and leadership skills of their workforce in the most engaging and effective way possible, particularly if their business or sector is facing new or enhanced responsibilities.
Here are our five main lessons for you to take away:
Initially, we thought that given how busy practitioners can be, incorporating a large amount of online training, which could be assessable anywhere at any time, would be the best way to ensure that participants completed the training.
However, after piloting the online aspect of the training course, we found that participants were actually less likely to complete the modules than if they were learning in an environment together with other professionals, face to face.
Designated and dedicated guilt-free time outside of the office ensured higher engagement and completion rates for participants.
- Time to change your Outlook
There’s no denying it - busy professionals, especially lawyers, are glued to their phones. Always thinking about the next email they are going to send or receive, it is impossible to try and get them to ‘switch off’.
To try and curb these habits as much as possible, we delegated specific time within the training day to accommodate this. Not only were participants really appreciative of this but it also improved the concentration and engagement of all participants.
Even with mine and my colleagues’ years of legal and leadership and management experience, it was crucial to consult our target market to make sure we were delivering the most relevant, valuable and effective training possible. We ran the course with consultants Matt Howgate and Vicky Ling whose expertise is highly regarded in the sector – the reputation and enthusiasm of the main tutors was invaluable.
Both before and after we came up with our pilot model, we consulted a panel of private practice and not-for-profit providers in England and Wales. Together, we assessed and discussed the content, accessibility and price of the course, so that we could come up with a tailored training course that best met the needs of the sector. This ensured that not only would participants get tailor made, valuable training that was fit for purpose, it also ensured that we placed ourselves in the best position to get programme uptake.
- The Social Network
When we first started designing the course we wanted to ensure that there was a sure sense of collaboration and so aimed to build an online network outside of the course for the participants. We thought that creating an online forum would enable the kind of networking and collaboration we wanted to improve learning during the training sessions.
However, we found that this really didn’t work, with people instead resorting to email. Instead, we found that socialising in ‘real life’ was much more beneficial. Our course structure, of participants having a meal on the introductory evening, really helped build rapport between them and improved engagement during the training course. This bonding was particularly helpful during the people management exercises the next day which required role play and made the content really ‘stick’.
- Location, Location, Location
Something to carefully consider is the location of your training. We did a lot of research beforehand and decided to conduct the face to face training within a regional rather than local area. This meant that because participants were drawn from a wide geographical area people felt more comfortable sharing stories and practices as there was no direct business competition within the room.
We also found it was better to conduct the training outside of London (we held ours in Leeds) as it enabled us, and indeed the participants, to afford the original structure of the training which consisted of an after work introduction and dinner followed by an overnight stay, followed by a full day of training.
We had some great successes on the programme, 80% of managers reported that the skills of participants had improved as a consequence of the course and 90% said participant’s confidence had improved. We’re also pleased that we have attracted funding to run the course at a subsidised rate again in 2016. Visit our website for more information.
With these tips and a rather large helping of positivity, perseverance and determination, your tailor-made management and leadership training course can help your business and your staff become even more efficient, productive and successful. Together we can raise the bar on management skills and ensure all of our sectors are equipped for the challenges ahead.
The LAPG Certificate in Practice Management was developed as a part of UKCES's UK Futures Programme.