The Legal Aid Practitioners Group is rolling out its certificate in practice management from this April, after extensively piloting the specially designed course last year. The course, beginning in April, includes over 60 hours of face to face and online tuition, aimed at equipping lawyers and practice managers to run their organisations more efficiently.
LAPG director Carol Storer says one of its key aims is to deal with the conundrum that all law firms face: either they are run by a non-lawyer manager, who may struggle to understand the lawyers’ perspectives; or they are run by lawyers-turned-managers, who may have had no management training.
‘Whichever route organisations go, managing is never easy,’ says Storer. The course was developed with funding from UK Commission for Education and Skills, and the content is designed around the Specialist Quality Mark and Lexcel 6. Content covered includes: strategy and business planning, financial planning, people management (including supervision, recruitment and performance reviews), marketing and risk management, and leadership.
Paula Harris, solicitor and head of the civil team at David Gray Solicitors took part in the pilot course last year. ‘I became head of civil two years ago, and as the newest member of the management team, it seemed a good idea to learn the skills that often don’t get taught and you are just expected to pick up.’
The course included advice on conducting performance reviews which, says, Harris, can be particularly tricky ‘when you’ve come up through the ranks’, and other potentially difficult issues such as under performance by fee-earners, and ‘managing change when people don’t necessarily want change’.
She adds: ‘It was really worth doing. It felt like a very safe environment, where everyone was doing the same type of work, and it felt OK to say, “I feel stuck”.’
The course is conducted by Storer, plus management consultants Matthew Howgate and Vicky Ling, with other specialist trainers brought in to cover specific topics, such as finance and marketing.
Storer says, although everyone knows that legal aid lawyers are under intense time pressure, the feedback from the pilot was that participants really wanted face to face training. ‘On the first evening, when everyone has just arrived, we encourage them to talk about why they have come on the course. People were saying, “I am so pleased to be here, because I think management is important but I struggle to get other people to think it’s important.’
She added that, to encourage delegates to be open about their own practices, LAPG is sensitive to the fact that they may not want to be too candid with direct rivals. ‘We want people to talk freely, so can arrange for firms from the same area to be in different workshops, and we also do the same if there are two people from the same firm.’
The course is aimed at both private practice and the not-for-profit sector and Storer says having both involved brings additional alchemy of the course. ‘Both can learn from each other.’
LAPG is now working on developing an additional module solely aimed at Nfps (with funding from the Future Advice Fund), covering specific issues, such as fund raising and working with trustees.
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