A new standard in management technique
Last year saw the pilot of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group’s new practice management course. Vicky Ling sets out what the course involved and reports on participants’ and their colleagues’ feedback.
Almost 90 per cent of employers said they noticed their participant colleagues had increased in confidence after the course.
In 2014, the Legal Aid Practitioners Group was awarded funding by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills to develop a management skills course aimed at legal aid practices in both the private and the not-for-profit sectors. The Certificate in Practice Management (CPM) was piloted in 2015. The aims were to:
•design and pilot a practice management course that would be:
– modular; and
– compatible with full-time legal practice;
•develop a best practice network to support participants;
•improve competence and capacity in the SME legal sector;
•achieve buy-in from leaders in the legal sector; and
•create a product that would be sustainable after the end of the pilot.
A key success factor was that the course delivered practical management tools and techniques, adapted to be used in the context of legal aid practice. The trainers are experts in their own fields and very familiar with the sector.
The CPM is designed around the Law Society’s Lexcel standard, the Specialist Quality Mark and the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s competence framework. It covers key areas including strategy, business planning and marketing, financial management, management information and dashboards, equality and diversity, people and performance management, information management, compliance and risk management. For legal aid practitioners, it also covers managing a legal aid contract and working with the Legal Aid Agency.
The course involves 60 hours of specialist training, including active face-to-face sessions and online content. It is delivered as follows:
•written and video online materials for people to read in their own time;
•face-to-face training (three full days and the preceding evenings);
•one-to-one and group discussions with an allocated course tutor;
•group exercises, role play and case studies based on real situations; and
Of the 24 participants in the pilot, 17 successfully completed the assessment by the target date (and two more had partially completed it). All those who completed it scored more than 60 per cent and so were awarded the certificate.
As a result of feedback from the pilot, in 2016 we will be including a number of topics designed specifically for NfP providers:
•innovation and new ways of working;
•building new partnerships and strengthening existing relationships;
•strategic planning for advice agencies;
•raising their profiles through online presence, social media and other marketing techniques;
•operating structures, good governance and working with boards of trustees;
•creating a new project or proposal; and
CPM 2016 dates
The CPM starts in April, with face-to-face sessions in May, June and September. In addition, numbers permitting, we will be running an intensive residential course from 20–23 September.
Impact on individuals
Everyone really enjoyed the course. They particularly appreciated the time to think about management as well as meeting others with whom they could discuss such issues. Each course is limited to 24 people, who get to know each other and support each other with the challenges they face.
Those involved in the pilot course agreed that it was a good use of time. Participants specifically mentioned management information, dashboards and ideas from the finance session. One solicitor in a multi-office regional practice said: ‘I can now critique and analyse our accounts.’
In addition, they said it was useful to get reassurance on things they already knew and that they were doing things right. All stressed that they had gained confidence and said they would recommend the course to others; several have already done so. According to a team leader who is a solicitor with three years’ PQE: ‘I would recommend the CPM to other people, especially people who are relatively new to management.’
Impact on practices
Almost 90 per cent of employers said they noticed their participant colleagues had increased in confidence after the course. All the employers said they would consider sending another colleague on the course.
Further, participants and employers can be confident that people will absorb and understand the content so that they can use it in their work environment from day one. ■