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Climbing the spine of learning by president Robert Bourns

17 May 2017

A highlight of every year for me, since becoming Deputy Vice President and now President of the Law Society, is the admissions ceremonies. Each time I tell them that we are all advocates for the profession and the solicitor brand. For many, qualifying is the major milestone in their journey as a solicitor. I feel strongly that is only one part of our development in the profession - albeit a very important one.  

The foundations and principles that make us solicitors - working independently but in our client's interest, whilst always recognising our higher duties to the integrity of the justice system and the rule of law – will remain with us from the day of qualification. To ensure that the quality of the solicitor brand is maintained and enhanced, together with the opportunities for individual members of the profession in a changing environment, it is fundamental that those engaged in firm management focus on education and training. This involves:

  • Providing opportunities to develop and progress means equipping practitioners with additional knowledge to perform their jobs and build their careers, going beyond pure technical ability or competence in current role. This may be extending the curriculum in relation to existing disciplines (for example Capital Market) or new and developing areas of law (for example internet law or Business and Human Rights).

  • Strategic workforce planning - anticipating tomorrow's needs looking ahead to identify the skills needed for the future of practice and the type of firms, such as project management of the firm or other business in which they work, strategy, communications, emotional intelligence and commercial solutions, and potential role as a judge. Technological innovation is enabling the profession to work smarter and be more productive and will require adjustments to our firms' workforce, skills and talent. This will involve law firms identifying the knowledge and aptitudes needed for new lawyers, support mid-career lawyers to rethink their development and progression and to think about the future of legal practice.

  • Giving line of sight -to retain talent it's important to give line of sight to practitioners at all levels to the opportunities available to them. Firms can do this and so does the Law Society as part of its learning and development work. We need to keep working to demonstrate to every solicitor that they can make it to any part of the profession and that we will support them in that journey. If we fail to do this, we fail to live up to our own professional values and to encourage and support solicitors as they develop their careers.

The Law Society works to ensure that practitioners at all levels, including those aspiring to enter the profession, can recognise opportunity and self-determination. The Society promotes and supports individuals by signposting opportunity and supporting access – this goes beyond just providing CPD. I call this model the 'spine of learning':

  • Formal further education following an LLB or Graduate Diploma in Law for aspiring solicitors and students
  • Professional exams and award of title
  • Awarding of title
  • Additional academic study to refine or develop areas of legal knowledge, for example, the necessary studies to reach higher rights of audience
  • Other studies to support the development of an individual’s role, such as project management, supervision and allied skills such as coding, accounting and judge craft

There are many challenges for us all, but huge opportunities to build our careers around new areas of law and practice, new roles in the management of firms and other providers and allied opportunities working in house, as GC, board director or in becoming a judge. 

The spine is set against the passage of time and will evolve, adapt and reinvent itself depending on the changes of the profession and economic, environmental, social and societal factors. This will allow law firms and solicitors to anticipate future needs in a changing environment, live up to our core values and see the development we want in ourselves and our careers. 


Tags: CPD

About the author

Robert Bourns was the 172nd president of the Law Society. He is a senior partner at TLT Solicitors, where he specialises in employment law. Robert is one of five representatives for the City of London constituency, a member of the Law Society's Equality and Diversity Committee, and a member of the Regulatory Affairs Board Regulatory Processes Committee.
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