REUTERS | Michaela Rehle

Working with other people: skills for the new SRA regime

Some early birds have already adopted the new regime, but from 1 November 2016 all solicitors will be required to adhere to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) new approach to continuing competence. This means that, rather than undertaking a random mandatory minimum number of continuing professional development (CPD) hours every year, solicitors will now be required to actually think about and plan purposefully for what they personally need to do, in terms of learning and development activities, to maintain or reach the necessary skill levels required to perform the roles and tasks required by their particular job, to the standards expected.

Self-assessing competence

The new approach requires each solicitor to complete a five-step process to assess and certify his competence:

  • Reflect on his practice to ascertain the key knowledge, skills and behaviours required to perform the job competently.
  • Identify his learning and development needs to meet those requirements.
  • Plan how to address those learning and development needs.
  • Record and evaluate his learning and development activity.
  • Make an annual declaration confirming that he has completed the above.

On 11 March 2015, the SRA published a competence statement to guide solicitors on certain matters that should be taken into consideration to maintain competence to practice. The statement covers four broad competency areas:

  • Ethics, professionalism and judgment.
  • Technical legal practice.
  • Working with other people.
  • Managing themselves and their own work.

The statement is then further broken down into 18 performance criteria, incorporating 91 positive indicators and behaviours that set out what a competent practitioner should be able to demonstrate.

Encouragingly, the SRA has recognised the importance of working with other people (Competency C) and managing oneself (Competency D) as key to maintaining competence to practice, which are both essential emotional intelligence capabilities. In-house lawyers will know only too well that these are the “make or break” skills in an organisation. Technical legal skills may get you in the door, but people skills are a far greater predictor of success, whether in terms of personal performance, team effectiveness or organisational impact.

Identifying desired behaviours

So how do solicitors identify what is relevant to their practice and begin to translate these desired indicators and behaviours into development goals? A good starting point is to compile a list of the key tasks, responsibilities and demands of the role and the corresponding ideal skill set required to deliver fully.

This needs to be considered holistically, by looking at each individual’s total business contribution, not just in terms of legal tasks. It may be useful to think in terms of the World Economic Forum’s top ten 2020 workforce skills. Unsurprisingly, at least half of those top ten skills are people skills.

The nature, timing, complexity and purpose of those tasks, responsibilities and demands of the role will inform the thinking and planning processes needed to identify, schedule and achieve each individual’s learning and development needs. For in-house counsel, this list will be highly influenced by what the business expects of its legal advisors.

For in-house lawyers, in addition to technical legal skills (Competency B), which support the organisation’s strategic objectives, people skills (Competency C) and the ability to manage oneself and ones work (Competency D) are likely to be of paramount importance to the organisation. The ability to connect with business colleagues, communicate, collaborate and contribute to general organisational management and leadership is the new norm for in-house lawyers. Most job descriptions for in-house counsel require, in addition to traditional technical legal skills, key knowledge, skills and behaviours such as the ability to establish and maintain effective liaison and working relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

The SRA’s Competency C, working with other people, simply reflects the two key themes valued in the modern working world: effective communication and relationship building. These key skills require emotional intelligence capabilities such as:

  • Self-awareness.
  • Social awareness.
  • Empathy.
  • Self-management.
  • Social skills.

Culture of an organisation

The next step is for each solicitor to identify:

  • His individual personality, beliefs, values, attitudes, ethics, knowledge and experiences and behaviours.
  • The personalities, motivations, backgrounds, thinking, learning, communication and behavioural styles of colleagues up, down and across the organisation, and how they interact on a personal and group level.
  • The culture, customs, values, philosophy, and politics of the organisation and the expectations that it has of its legal advisors and crucially whether the solicitor is a “good fit” for the organisation.

Each of these matters is fundamental to and will inform the required thinking and planning processes to identify and achieve the learning and development needs of an individual solicitor’s competency requirements in his unique context.

Solicitors should take this opportunity to reflect honestly and critically analyse their individual strengths and weaknesses. It will be useful to identify what they should stop doing, what they should start doing, what they can do better, and any attitude adjustments that are needed to make to maintain or improve their skills, behaviours and knowledge to be fit for their organisation’s purpose.

Trait Emotional Intelligence

Although self-assessment is a valuable exercise, it can be helpful to balance this against independent input or feedback such as a 360° review from managers, peers and direct reports, or even from external advisors. Another very useful tool is the Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue). TEIQue is one of the world’s best-researched and reliable psychometric instruments, supported by the London Psychometric Laboratory of University College London.

TEIQue comprises 153 questions and takes about 20-25 minutes to complete. There are no right or wrong answers. For each question there are seven possible responses, ranging from “disagree strongly” to “agree strongly”. TEIQue explores 15 separate facets, which include:

  • Self-motivation.
  • Well-being: disposition/mood, optimism and self-esteem.
  • Self-control: regulation of impulses and emotions, including stress management.
  • Emotionality: perception and expressions of emotion, empathy and relationships.
  • Sociability: interpersonal utilisation of emotion and management of emotions.
  • Adaptability.

There is no such thing as a good or bad TEIQue result. When evaluating results, it is important to look at the scores in the context of the individual’s particular work situation to understand how a certain facet might be effective or ineffective or interpreted as a benefit or a detriment to performance. For example, the results may indicate how an individual reacts to pressure and reveal how well he develops and manages relationships with clients, co-workers, stakeholders and others.

The next step is to assess the ideal demands of the individual’s job in terms of the 15 facets, and to rate each facet to ascertain which facets are required, in frequent use or essential to the job demands. The individual’s TEIQue scores are then mapped against his job demands ratings to ascertain what facets are in under or over-supplied. It is all about the context. This exercise provides valuable insight into what makes a solicitor successful in his role, his team and within the business as a whole. It also highlights any personal limitations. It can also be very useful to help solicitors to see and understand themselves and others more realistically and to assist them in being more productive and effective.

beyondBlackletter Kelli Read

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