The Practice Management Advisors Committee of the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Management Section is exploring the development of a Strategic Systems Model (or plan) for creating competency-based performance improvement programs for lawyers. This competency model we are studying is designed as a self-assessment tool, as well as a career and succession planning instrument for individuals, law firms and corporate/government legal departments. The model is being developed to identify those competencies that are required for satisfactory or exemplary job performance within the context of a lawyer’s duties and responsibilities within an organization. (adapted from Boyatzis, 1982) The competency model supports a learning continuum and will serve as a framework for sound management practice.
The identification of quality standards is an important part of any competency-based performance improvement model. We would like to thank the Law Society of England and Wales for allowing us to use their Practice Management Standards (1993) as a starting point for our research. The development of this competency-based self-assessment model should be viewed as preliminary and not conclusive, because a properly designed model will need to be able to continually evolve to reflect the constantly changing legal environment.
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Many visionaries believe that competition for tomorrow’s legal services is actually competition to create and dominate emerging opportunities — to stake out new competitive space. Because it is unlikely that future opportunities will fit neatly within existing boundaries, maintaining a competitive edge in the future will involve establishing new standards for the delivery of quality legal services. According to authors Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad (1994), authors of “Competing for the Future”, one of the most important strategic management books of the 1990’s, it is important to establish intellectual leadership in terms of influence over the direction and shape of industry transformation. The capacity to invent new industries and reinvent old ones is a prerequisite for getting to the future first. The Practice Management Advisors believe professional associations have an important role to play in identifying skills and competencies, and in establishing the standards of quality needed by lawyers to shape the future direction of the profession.
One of the true challenges facing lawyers and law firms is to preemptively build the competencies that provide gateways to tomorrow’s opportunities, as well as to find novel applications of current core competencies in competing for the future. The bar association’s role in providing this industrial foresight will help lawyers answer three critical questions. First, what new types of client benefit should we seek to provide in five, ten, or fifteen years? Second, what new competencies will be needed to build or acquire to offer those benefits to clients? And third, how will we need to reconfigure the client interface over the next several years? (adapted from Hamel & Prahalad, 1994)
In 1974, the American Bar Association adopted an official set of “Standards for Judicial Administration”. By 1987, the ABA Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap (The MacCrate Task Force) conducted an in-depth study of the range of skills and values necessary for a lawyer to assume professional responsibility for handling a legal matter. When the task force began to consider how the preparation of lawyers for practice could be improved, it decided to focus on the development of a compendium of the skills and values that are desirable for practitioners to have. For the first time, the task force identified Organization and Management of Legal Work (Skill §9) as one of the fundamental areas for skills and competencies needed by all lawyers.
The task of building systems and controls — the methodology for teaching basic practice management skills has traditionally been left to each individual; however, with the bar association’s involvement in developing and implementing a competency-based performance model, bar associations can begin to help lawyers better serve the public. In order to create the future, Hamel and Prahalad believe that bar organizations must be prepared to:
(1) change in some fundamental way the rules of engagement in the practice of law,
(2) redraw the boundaries between related industries, and/or
(3) create entirely new industries.
Developing a Competency-based Performance Model for Lawyers
The word “competence,” “competency,” and “competency model” are problematic, so it is easiest to think of “competency” in its most generic form as any underlying characteristic an individual possesses and uses which leads to successful performance in a life role. (adapted from Boyatzis, 1982) Unfortunately, the professional literature provides little help to those who need to understand, plan, create, implement, and evaluate effective and efficient competency-based performance improvement systems. (David Dubois, 1993)
Every job can be said to have a set of functional requirements, that is, requirements that a person in the job should fulfill in terms of the functions and tasks to be performed. (Boyatzis, 1982) According to Dubois, “The contemporary and growing trend towards instability in employees’ job tasks and activities, and the requirement that employees acquire and apply transferable job competencies, could account for the recent increase in interest in competency-based performance improvement applications in organizations.” (p. 7)
A lawyer, as a manager, is someone who “gets things done through other people.” (Appley, 1969) In contributing to the integrated performance of the lawyers’ job within an organization, a lawyer’s work can be classified as either managing the work of others, or as an individual contributor on the basis of the functions and outputs demanded of their job. The proposed competency-based performance improvement model focuses on the competencies needed by lawyers in their role as managers of their own work product, as well as the work product of others. Taken as a whole, the output of the integrated performance of all jobs within an organization yields the performance of the organization with respect to its mission and objectives (Dubois, p. 16)
Competency models are being developed by professional associations, credentialing groups, researchers, and consultants, who are specializing in competency-based assessment methods. We have chosen to adopt a methodology know as the Generic Model Overlay Method (Dubois), because it enables us to obtain a prepared, competency model, and then overlay or superimpose the research-based model on the legal profession here in the United States and Canada. (p. 71) It is anticipated that a certain sacrifice in the degree of fit is to be expected.
Our planning group has decided to start with The Law Society of England and Wales’s Practice Management Standards, which were approved by the Law Society’s Council in April 1993. In April 1998 The Law Society of England and Wales launched its Lexcel Certification Scheme, which is a voluntary competency model allowing law practices and corporate legal departments to be independently assessed as having achieved the core requirements of the Practice Management Standards. The Lexcel scheme awards a “quality mark” to practices and legal departments that are independently assessed as having achieved the Law Society’s Practice Management Standards.
The Practice Management Advisors are taking a closer look at the Law Society’s Practice Management Standards, which do not prescribe procedures and systems in detail, but rather identify the key disciplines in which procedures and systems are needed that will suit the needs of both the practice and their clients. The Practice management Advisors will draw on their own broad experiences with competency-based performance programs to supplement the current research of the committee. Once review of the draft model is completed, the Practice Management Advisors will be in a better position to identify exemplary performance suggestions and, if necessary, revise the current model.
Practice Management Advisors have met with representatives from The Law Society of England and Wales during the American Bar Association Annual Meeting in Atlanta, GA. in August 1999. The Law Society and the Law Practice Management Section conducted a workshop entitled “Practice Quality Standards ‑‑‑ Is the Time Right?”.
The Law Society of England and Wales
Practice Management Standards
Management Structure – Practices will have a written description of their management structure. There will be a named supervisor for each area of work (a supervisor may be responsible for more than one area).
Services and Forward Planning – Practices will document:
a. an outline strategy to provide a background against which the practice may review its performance and may make decisions about its future;
b. what services it wishes to offer, the client groups to be served and how services are to be provided;
c. their approach to marketing; and practices may choose the format and level of detail of documentation that suits them best.
Financial Management – Practices will be able to demonstrate (for example to providers of finance or to major clients) who exercises responsibility for financial affairs.
Managing People – Practices will document the skills, knowledge, and experience required of fee-earners and other staff and the tasks they are required to perform, usually in the form of a written job description; but employment contracts may reserve job flexibility.
Office Administration – Practices will designate administrative responsibilities as part of the
description of management structure
Case Management – Practices will have arrangements to:
a. maintain an index of matters (for example, listing and numbering each matter);
b. facilitate identifying any conflict of interest;
c. monitor the number and type of matters undertaken by each fee-earner to ensure that they are within his or her capacity;
d. maintain a back-up record of key dates in matters (for example: expiration of a limitation period or time limits for a review or for an application) so as to ensure action is taken by the fee-earner at the appropriate time (options include a record kept by a secretary or colleague, or office or departmental diaries);
e. ensure proper authorization and monitoring of undertakings given on behalf of the practice (which may, for example, provide for: forms in which an undertaking may be given; designation of fee-earners authorized to give undertakings; procedures for approval of undertaking; and for central records).
For purposes of our discussions the following definitions can prove to be helpful:
Job competence. Job competence is an employee’s capacity to meet (or exceed) a job’s requirements by producing the job outputs at an expected level of quality within the constraints of the organization’s internal and external environments.
Competency model is a set of desired skills, values, or behaviors the organization feels its leaders need in order to successfully meet current and future business challenges. (See Rich Hughes, Robert Ginnett, and Gordy Curphy, 1999, p.108)
A competency model includes those competencies that are required for satisfactory or exemplary job performance within the context of a person’s job roles, responsibilities and relationships in an organization and its internal and external environments (adapted from Boyatzis, 1982).
Core competence is a bundle of skills and technologies that enables a company to provide a particular benefit to customers. A core competence must also make a disproportionate contribution to customer-perceived value, and finally, to qualify as a core competence, a capability must also be competitively unique and the competence must be able to be applied in new product areas. (See Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad. 1994)
Curriculum. A curriculum consists of a system of performance improvement opportunities (such as courses, programs, learning intervention, or other forms of performance improvement opportunities), the content specifications for them, and a conceptual framework for linking the opportunities in a sequential manner which will provide efficient and effective learning opportunities for employees.
Competency-based curriculum. A competency-based curriculum is one whose content specifications are defined in competence terms, consistent with the definitions above (Dubois, 1993, p. 9).
The actual data on job performance come from research studies specifically designed to determine the characteristic of competent manager (Bray et al., 1974; Bass et al., 1979; Blake & Mouton, 1964; Stogdill, 1974; Argyris, 1962; Kottegers: An international comparison, New York: The Free Press, 1979.
Blake, W. F. Handbook for developing competency-based training programs. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1982.
Blake R. R. & Mouton, J. A. The managerial grid. Houston: Gulf Publishing activities, and the requirement that employees acquire and apply transferable job competencies, could account for the recent increase in interest in competency-based performance improvement applications in organizations.” (p.7)
Appley, L. A. A Management Concept. New York: American Management Association, 1969.
Argyris, C. Interpersonal competence and organizational effectiveness. Homewood, IL.: Irwin-Dorsey, 1962.
Bass, B. M., Burger, P. C., Duktor, R., & Barrett, G. V.. Assessment on managers: An international comparison, New York: The Free Press, 1979.
Blake, W. F. Handbook for developing competency-based training programs. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1982.
Blake R. R. & Mouton, J. A. The managerial grid. Houston: Gulf Publishing, 1994.
Bray, D. W., Campbell, R. J., & Grant, D. L. Formative years in business: A long term A T & T study of managerial lives. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974.
Boyatzis, R. E. The competent manager: A model for effective performance. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1982.
Campbell, J. P., Dunnette, M. D., Lawler, E. E., III, & Weick, K. E., Jr. Managerial behavior, performance, and effectiveness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1970.
Dubois, David D. Competency-based performance improvement: a strategy for organizational change. Amherst, MA: HRD Press, 1993.
Hamel, Gary and Prahalad, C. K. Competing for the Future, Boston, Mass.:Harvard Business School Press, 1994.
Klemp, G. O., Jr. (1978).Job Competence Assessment. Boston, MA: McBed and Co., Inc.
Kotter, J. P. The general manager. New York: The Free Press, 1982.
McClelland, D. C. (1973). Testing for Competence Rather Than for “Intelligence.” American Psychologist, 28 (1), pp. 1-14.
McLagan, P. A. Flexible job models: A productivity strategy for the Information Age. In J. P. Campbell and R. J. Campbell & Associates, Productivity in organizations. San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass, 1990.
Stogdill, R. M. Handbook of Leadership, New York: The Free Press, 1974.
White, Robert (1959) Motivation Reconsidered: The Concept of Competence. Psychological Review, 66, pp. 279-333.
 A competency model is a set of desired skills, values, or behaviors the organization feels its leaders need in order to successfully meet current and future business challenges. See Rich Hughes, Robert Ginnett, and Gordy Curphy. “Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience,” Third Edition Boston: Irwin McGraw-Hill, 1999, p.108
 David C. McClelland and his associates at McBer and Company were the first to establish a research process for job competence assessment. Job competence assessment is not so much assessment of the job as assessment of the person who does the job. See George O. Klemp, Jr. Job Competence assessment: Defining the Attributes of the Top Performers. The Ptg in the Python and Other Tales (ASTD Research Series, Vol. 8). Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training and development. (p. 55)
 A core competence is a bundle of skills and technologies that enables a company to provide a particular benefit to customers. A core competence must also make a disproportionate contribution to customer-perceived value, and finally, to qualify as a core competence, a capability must also be competitively unique and the competence must be able to be applied in new product areas. See Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad. Competing for the Future, Boston, Mass.:Harvard Business School Press, 1994.
 The notion of human competence came to the forefront through the concurrent work of psychologists Robert White (1959) and David McClelland (1973). McClelland and his associates were the first to establish a research process for job competence assessment. Job competence assessment is not so much assessment of the job as assessment of the person who does the job. (p. 55) .
 One of the primary objectives for the Practice Management Advisors is to determine if The Law Society’s (generic) model includes at least the full range of competencies required for fully successful job performance.