Published: 28/11/2016
ISBN: 9781785898594
eISBN: 9781785897795
Format: Paperback/eBook



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Fiona Westwood graduated LLB (Hons) from Glasgow University in 1974 and became an enrolled solicitor with the Law Society of Scotland in 1976. During her professional career as a solicitor which span... read more

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Exercising Professional Judgement
Mastering the Craft of Lawyering
by Fiona Westwood

‘This is the fourth in my series of books about professionals and their practice. It investigates the importance of learning from work-based experiences in a supportive ‘community of practice’ that encourages reflection. It concentrates on the exercise of professional judgement in the context of mastering the craft of lawyering. I feel that this is especially important at this point in time when current changes in the way legal services are delivered may put at risk the traditional method the legal profession has used to develop this in its new entrants.

Everyone involved in the UK legal profession is well aware of recent changes to its structure and methods of working. The opening up of the legal services market to ‘alternative business structures’ following the Legal Services Act 2007 has created a variety of delivery mechanisms, ranging from acquisitions of indigenous law firms by other jurisdictions to new corporate entrants adding legal advice to their existing ‘products’. Adjustments to fee levels and work practices mean that some are concentrating on specialist advice while others are employing para-legals to complete work on ‘commoditised’ client files. Whether these responses will achieve the government-commissioned Clementi Report’s (Clementi 2004) aim of improving the quality of the provision of legal services remains to be seen. Some incomers have already found it more difficult than they anticipated to operate profitably and have withdrawn from the market. However, the overall effect has been to fragment what, up until 2007, had been a fairly cohesive profession.

Regardless of all of this, clients continue to expect their legal advisors to provide them with solutions to their problems and where needed, access to justice. To achieve this, given the complexities of what is involved in the application of the relevant law to the particular situations clients find themselves in, lawyers have to exercise their professional judgement so as to determine what options are available and, most importantly, achievable. Traditionally, they have developed the ability to do this through induction to and subsequent experience in a ‘community of practice’ where more senior practitioners allocate tasks to and supervise novices as well as share with them the way they arrive at and implement the most appropriate choice available in the specific set of circumstances. However, recent alterations in work practices brought about, in particular, by information technology have reduced the availability of the type of low-risk routine work usually completed by trainees to allow them to gain experience and proficiency.

So this book is about identifying how lawyers, up to this point in time, have developed their judgement and, through recognising the changes affecting their profession, offering a model that will continue to allow new entrants to achieve this, regardless of the type of legal services providers they work in. In addition, given that external influences, including IT and pressures on profits are being felt by many professions, I hope that the Model will also be relevant to other disciplines where the training of novices has to be embedded in organisations that need to match their people and resources with the management of risk, client satisfaction and quality of services.

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Why I wrote the book
Accelerated Best Practice – implementing success in professional firms
My first book, ‘Achieving Best Practice – Shaping Professionals for Success’ (McGraw-Hill, 2001) grew out of my frustrations with being part of the management team of a professional service partnership. We had found it increasingly difficult as the marketplace affected us to source support that was directly relevant to the challenges we were facing in running a business that had also to reflect our professional values. Frustrated by this lack of practical help, I resolved to write my own book to provide answers to the challenges of managing a professional firm. Once I moved full-time into management consultancy, I supplemented my own experience with detailed research into why some firms were growing and successful in the same market as others who were dying. As a result, I devised the Model for Success for professional service firms.

That was in the year 2000. Eight years on, the Model has been applied in a wide range of professional organisations. It has been adapted and improved. This second book encapsulates the results of those applications and provides the ‘accelerated’ Model for use in ambitious firms who want to change and change fast. It provides a holistic view of a professional firm, looking at its internal workings and external focus. Its Segments encompass leadership and management, strategy and processes and provide practical techniques and solutions. They build into a complete circle of understanding of professional management and its application, and deliver the ability to change which is so vitally needed in today’s marketplace.

Developing Resilience – the key to professional success
In recent years, I have seen good professionals and their organisations struggle with the sudden and rapid change that the marketplace has imposed upon them. Some seemed to be more resilient to this than others, so I set myself the task of working out why this was the case. I found that successful organisations allowed their professionals to self-manage as much as possible. I noticed that good professionals needed more help with developing personal resilience than people who did not care about the quality of what they did. The very fact that good professionals took personal responsibility meant that they were likely to be upset by an error of judgement or making a mistake. This often had a cumulative effect on their confidence, with the result that they were more likely in the future to question what they did and the career choice they had made.

I had also begun to think about the longitudinal aspects of learning how to be a good professional and my own early experiences of being a novice in my profession. My work in vocational education led me to observe that some students were ‘naturally good’ practitioners and seemed to have an inherent resilience and ability to self-manage and motivate. When I saw them again in practice, they were enjoying their formal traineeship and making the most of their work-based learning opportunities. This, in turn, caused me to observe the impact that great masters can have in showing younger professionals how to acquire good judgement and learn how to progress in their careers.

As a result, I set to write this book blending all of my experiences with the aim of offering practical advice about how to first, cope with and, secondly and more aspirationally, succeed in professional practice. What I hope makes this book important and unique is that it sets the development of resilience in the context of professional practice - the messy, difficult, challenging lifelong career that good professionals believe in and care about, and reflects the essence of what we are.

Scottish Legal News

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