The U.K. LexisNexis In-house Advisory Board addressed personal development and its application in the world of in-house lawyers during a meeting facilitated by Jonathan Smith, director at LBC Wise Counsel and former general counsel at Fujitsu and of the Managed Legal Service of Berwin Leighton Paisner. The following note reviews some of the key practical takeaways that emerged from the conversation.

Personal Development for In-House Lawyers

Why do in-house lawyers need personal development?

  • to help bolster the business case for a pay rise;
  • to satisfy the necessary criteria for a practicing certificate;
  • to ensure the optimal delivery of legal advice to the internal client; and
  • to develop individuals and maximize their contribution to the business.

Recent research conducted by LBC Wise Counsel shows that while in-house lawyers consider legal advice to be their most important contribution to their organization, their business colleagues disagree.

In fact, many business colleagues thought that in terms of quality the best legal advice comes from external lawyers. Despite this, the research showed that in-house lawyers are hugely valued by their clients but for attributes that went far beyond legal advice. Their value is perceived to come not solely or predominantly from the application of their technical legal skills but rather from their non-legal business skills and commercial understanding.

At the same time, the legal market is undergoing fundamental and comprehensive transformation. The traditional structure of the legal market is under threat. A world where most lawyers are managed by business people is no longer such a fantastical proposition.

Against this background, a development program focused on the development of technical legal skills and not these other skills seems unbalanced and out of tune with the totality of the service delivered by in-house lawyers to their clients.

Who is Responsible for the Development of In-House Lawyers?

The following are some stakeholders who might be expected to take responsibility for the development of in-house lawyers:

  • regulators of the legal profession;
  • the company/employer;
  • the manager of the legal team; and
  • the individual in-house lawyer.

The Advisory Board agreed that a regulatory body was not best placed to set the agenda for development programs, which were often most appropriate when they were customized to the particular environment of the individual employer.

It was felt that the employer should encourage and facilitate a development program, and the individual in-house lawyer should be responsible for driving its creation and execution. The leader of an in-house team should help put a structure around a training program that meets the individual's needs.

Developing a Structured Training Program

The majority of Advisory Board members have developed a structured training program within their teams, aiming to avoid a tick box mentality, and instead focusing on enhancing the contribution of in-house lawyers to the business.

The following are some practical tips that emerged:

  • Begin by engaging the team — a successful outcome depends on individual belief in and engagement with the training program. Inspire a deep commitment to personal development, and an understanding of its purpose.
  • Work with individuals and the team to build a picture of training needs — build a skills matrix, including both the necessary legal and non-legal competencies. You need to think about:
    • what your business needs;
    • what your team needs;
    • and what you as team leader need.
  • Include on-the-job training: one Advisory Board member offered the following breakdown of how in-house lawyers develop:
    • Consider including projects and objectives that allow the development of skills through their practical application.
  • Harness the expertise already flourishing in your team: encourage your team to share their knowledge and experiences. One Advisory Board member regularly holds brown bag lunches where in-house lawyers can come together informally to discuss lessons learnt from specific projects, industry developments or to share newly acquired tips and tricks.
  • Some Advisory Board members had taken this a step further by encouraging secondments, temporary job swaps and even permanent business roles for in-house lawyers.
  • Consider obtaining Continuing Professional Development ("CPD") or Continuing Legal Education ("CLE") accreditation. Some Advisory Board members have acquired accreditation so that their internal training formally supports regulatory development requirements. This is a relatively easy way to simplify and add value to the program.
  • Partner with other in-house teams: exploit your network of in-house lawyers and explore ways to share the personal development burden. This might include secondments between in-house teams; setting up buddying or mentoring schemes; or pooling resources for training.

Identifying New Joiners with the Capability for Development

The Advisory Board concluded by discussing how best practice in recruitment can help capture those with the greatest propensity to excel as in-house lawyers.

Sometimes, personal development flounders because an individual's personality and core capabilities are fundamentally better suited to private practice. The following are some practical tips shared by the Advisory Board:

  • use the skills matrix you developed for the personal development program as a map of the core capabilities you require;
  • at the interview stage, focus on the candidate's personality and fit within your team and the business as a whole;
  • consider asking business colleagues to run an interview, enabling you to observe the interaction;
  • and consider using assessment centres as a way to uncover more about the candidate's true potential as an in-house lawyer.

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