South: Behavioural skills key in post-COVID legal world

Only those law firms with highly developed and resilient behavioural skills will be equipped to successfully navigate the challenges firms now face to adapt, survive, and thrive in this age of uncertainty. That was the finding of Claire Rason and Oliver Hansard, two former City lawyers and now accredited coaches, in their podcast series Lawyer’s Coach.

Recorded over lockdown, Lawyer’s Coach follows the career journeys of a series of legal guests, with the aim of discovering what makes them tick. Guests identified the need for lawyers to develop behavioural skills and saw this as key for the legal industry to innovate for the future. Alongside industry wide change, they were also seen as critical for building and sustaining relationships with clients.

Speaking to Claire Rason, Jonathan Grigg, managing partner of regional firm Boyes Turner, spoke about the challenges he had faced taking over the role in April. Covid-19 meant that he could only rise to the challenge by leveraging his soft skills. He set out why communication was at the heart of his approach and moreover the need for authenticity in communication. Remote working and virtual teams had moved this skill from a nice-to-have to critical in all professional services firms, and that look sets to stay as more firms consider embracing virtual working for the long term.

“All of our guests recognised the need for empathy in their day-to-day whether that was in dealings with employees, clients or client stakeholders. There was a recognition that the soft skills that build this empathy – active listening in particular – were lacking from most lawyers basic, and then ongoing, training,” said Rason.

This lack of training could be holding the industry back. One of the GCs interviewed, Nir Golan, suggested that empathy was the one thing that could truly revolutionise the legal industry. If the skills needed to develop this empathy are missing in firms, this is a real barrier for the future, where increased uncertainty is going to demand change from the industry.

Legal Design is a movement that is aiming to buck the trend, it is transforming the industry with empathy at its heart. Natalie Murray, co-founder of Oxford-based legal design agency Lawbox, set out how Legal Design marries legal expertise with design thinking, to create legal solutions that work for the end users. Legal design is human-centred and requires lawyers to have skills that are not traditionally taught at law school. It brought into focus how these behavioural skills could be used in the future for the benefit of clients.

“We believe that empathy is a soft skill with hard edges.  Firms have not traditionally been good at teaching soft skills. As someone who has been both in private practice and in-house, I saw first-hand the difference that empathy could bring to a business relationship. As a coach, the most common challenges that leaders bring are the increased pressures on them to deliver and to have skills that traditionally were lacking in leaders to deal with these pressures. Many leaders feel unprepared,” said Oliver Hansard.

Starting to tackle the behavioural skills gap at all levels of professional services firms has risen up the agenda in professional services firms, it will be interesting to see who rises to the challenge.

Lawyer’s Coach is a new podcast hosted by Claire Rason, founder of Client Talk, and Oliver Hansard of Hansard Coaching, both former City lawyers, turned coaches. The series aims to find out what makes lawyers tick.

Client Talk is a Reading-based consultancy, providing consultancy, training and coaching to professional services firms. For more information contact Claire Rason, crason@clienttalk.co.uk