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Improving solicitors’ project management competence by activity based learning

According to a survey on the web site of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), 40% of solicitors intend to adopt the new approach for assessing and improving their professional competence with immediate effect.  A further 13% intend to adopt the new approach by the end of the current CPD year (1st November 2015) while just 31% will wait until the new scheme becomes mandatory on 1st November 2016.

Although the number of survey respondents is quite small, it is still impressive that, potentially, such a significant proportion of solicitors are planning to adopt the new scheme as soon as they can.  So much for solicitors being reluctant to embrace change.

I have discussed the new scheme and its identification of project management skills as part of solicitor’s core competence in a previous post. In this post I will discuss some ways in which solicitors may like to go about improving their competence in project management.


Foundation stone for developing competence: self-assessment

The new scheme requires solicitors to conduct a self-assessment of their personal learning needs and then put in place an action plan to meet those needs.  Cynics may argue that many solicitors will join the new scheme early simply to give themselves an easy ride.  I’m not a cynic and if I were still a practising solicitor I would welcome the new scheme as an opportunity to take control over my own post-qualification learning and development. Then again this might just be me as thinking in terms of analysis, objectives and delivery plans is the way I think and work by default.


A 5 step framework for post qualification learning and development

Under the new scheme the SRA is encouraging solicitors to:

  1. Identify their learning and development needs
  2. Plan their learning and development
  3. Take action to address the learning and development needs identified
  4. Record any learning and development activities undertaken
  5. Evaluate whether the activity has successfully addressed the learning and development needs identified.

Solicitors must then make an annual declaration about how they followed the above framework.  The SRA will issue further guidelines about the annual statement in due course but for now its web site states that solicitors “will be required to reflect on the standard of their work by reference to the Competence Statement”.


Project management skills and solicitors competence

The SRA’s Competence Statement refers to the need for project management skills and is activity based.  Rather than attempt to provide a detailed list of competences, the SRA identify, illustrate and express the competences required by means of activity statements.   Hence in Section C, ‘Managing themselves and their own work’ the SRA expects that solicitors must

D1 Initiate, plan, prioritise and manage work activities and projects to ensure that they are completed efficiently, on time and to an appropriate standard, both in relation to their own work and work that they lead or supervise, including

1. Clarifying instructions so as to agree the scope and objectives of the work

2. Taking into account the availability of resources in initiating work activities

3. Meeting timescales, resource requirements and budgets

4. Monitoring, and keeping other people informed of, progress

5. Dealing effectively with unforeseen circumstances

6. Paying appropriate attention to detail

I’m sure that many solicitors, when conducting their training and development self-assessment will want to improve on some aspects of the above.  Leaving aside the particular demands of legal practice for the moment, these are the type of activities that project managers do on a daily basis.  I believe that solicitors can lean a lot from the discipline of project management and how professional project managers go about their work.  But how can solicitors learn most effectively?


Activity based learning

I have devised an activity based, ‘hands-on’, half day workshop for solicitors and other legal professionals, with the SRA’s Competence Statement in mind.  The purpose of the workshop is to help lawyers see and experience project management in action through practise.

Solicitors have sometimes asked me ‘what does all this project management stuff mean?’.  Rather than provide definitions and explanations, I’d much rather show them.  In my workshop delegates learn about, and apply, some key project management skills by working through project scenarios.  The first scenario is non-legal and I use this to introduce project management concepts.  I then follow up with one of several legal scenarios (depending on the audience).  I tailor the workshop to meet the needs of attendees.

The response I have had so far to this activity and scenario based workshop is very encouraging.  Attendees appear enjoy the learning and I enjoy the skills transfer.


Consultancy and mentoring

The SRA has made it clear that the action to be taken to help improve competence need not be confined to attending training courses.  This makes sense as the whole point of the new approach is to move away from the current CPD scheme, which relies heavily on formal training to acquire the necessary CPD points per year.

With this in mind I also act as a legal project management mentor and consultant, working with and alongside solicitors and others helping to put legal project management into practice.  This work can take different forms and sometimes lead to unlooked for outcomes.  For example, when a firm invited me to help with scheduling and resourcing issues this evolved into helping them select and implement a new legal practice management system.

If you would like to investigate ways of improving the project management skills and capability of you and your firm, please do get in touch.

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