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Solicitors have ‘blind spot’ when identifying keys to success

10 September 2019

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Solicitors are often “blind to their own individual failings” in core areas of legal provision, according to a new report.

The latest LexisNexis 2019 Bellwether Report, The good solicitor’s skill set, found that although the respondent solicitors identified the key elements of what makes a successful, thriving solicitor – human, legal, and business skills – only 48 per cent felt the ability to generate business is a vital skill.

Just 35 per cent said entrepreneurial skills are a priority, while substantially less than half of the sample thought that service industry skills are important.

Of the top five attributes identified as a “top priority” for a good solicitor, four of them – common sense (89 per cent), inspiring trust (87 per cent), a willingness to listen (84 per cent), and use of normal language rather than legal jargon (81 per cent) – are human skills.

The most important skill required for being a solicitor, according to respondents, is a legal one – the ability to identify the central problem and zero in on what the client really wants (91 per cent).

Other legal skills appearing in the top 10 most important priorities included efficient case management (79 per cent) and proactive communication (76 per cent).

The study, which involved a poll of 176 solicitors, together with in-depth interviews, found that though solicitors consider business skills, in the abstract, to be of critical importance to success; when questioned further, respondents viewed many of the individual business skills as less essential – or just “nice to have”.

“There appears to be a blind spot with regards to the skills our respondents perceive as necessary to be a successful solicitor,” the report says.

“With 91 per cent of respondents agreeing that business skills are of increasing importance to succeed in the law, for example, why aren’t more solicitors making actual business skills a top priority? Is optimism clouding their judgment? Or is there a more fundamental failure to connect the dots?”

In his conclusion, report author Jon Whittle, market development director at LexisNexis, said players active in the independent legal market are alive to the possibilities of what makes a successful, thriving solicitor.

However, in several key areas “they are seemingly unconcerned with claiming the specific skills necessary for success by making them a top priority moving forwards”.

He said: “There is a sense that solicitors can see the problems in the profession, and in their own practices, but they are blocked from making changes themselves.

"The path to success is visible to them; they’re just not able to clear some of the hurdles in their way. After all, not all obstacles look like challenges at first glance.

"Perhaps you think you don’t need to change because you’re performing well at the moment. Perhaps those issues are a hindrance for everyone else, just not you. But the result is the same; you’re standing still.”

After years of researching independent law, he said, there is a recurring central concern that practitioners can identify the issues, but are often blind to their own individual failings in these core areas of legal provision.

However, he said with the same challenges besetting the profession year on year, and alarming disconnects revealing gaps between assumptions and reality, is it time for the profession to own up to the larger reality, beyond the moment-to-moment concerns – however positive they might be – and ensure that the path they are travelling down is the right one?

He added: “It might just be the path towards a flourishing practice, a satisfied client base, and a rewarding professional life.

"With the changes to the SRA Handbook coming in November of this year opening up the market to non-law firms it is more critical than ever that law firms and individual solicitors take a long, hard look at what really drives success.

"The time when to do nothing was an option is rapidly disappearing.”

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