A Case For Continuous Financial And Legal Professional Development

31st January 2019

It is impossible to be truly effective as a lawyer or accountant without taking the necessary steps to stay updated in relation to industry changes, says Caroline Muscat, Assistant Recruitment Manager at Konnekt. 

It is common knowledge for whoever undertakes the path of the accountancy or legal profession that you are entering a lifetime of study and development. The everchanging body of laws and introduction of new International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) make it impossible for either lawyers or accountants to remain static if they are truly passionate about the profession.

The advantage that the accountancy profession provides is that the warrant to practice is conditional in relation to the number of hours dedicated per year to continuous development. The legal profession, on the other hand, does not impose any hours of attendance to continuous development programmes.

There are several arguments both for and against having this imposition, which, without a doubt, have and are being discussed in other forums. However it is obvious that it is impossible to be truly effective and efficient in either profession without taking the necessary steps to stay updated in relation to major, as well as minor, industry changes.

Notwithstanding the attendance to information sessions, there is a clear difference between skimming the surface of any topic as opposed to delving deeper in the understanding of the intricate complexities of any new introduction. While it is relatively easy for accountants and lawyers to obtain an idea of new incentives introduced under Maltese law, it is less common to find those who dedicate enough time to obtain a proper grasp of such new incentives to be confident in such areas.

Having said that, it is not humanly possible to be an expert on all aspects, even if one were to focus solely on the financial services industry, for example. Some might argue that it is better to simply “have an idea of the subject” than nothing at all, and that the time constraints faced by both legal and accountancy professionals makes it extremely difficult to obtain a better and more practical understanding of certain things which a person would not be actively practising in their day-to-day work. However, the benefits of a holistic understanding of the main changes in other areas outside one’s practice areas certainly outweigh any negatives in the equation – mainly time restraints.

Caroline Muscat, Assistant Recruitment Manager

Caroline Muscat, Assistant Recruitment Manager

The main benefit of this is clear when one is seeking new employment within a different area of expertise. From a recruitment perspective, we feel the pain points of both employers seeking to recruit, as well as candidates seeking new challenges. Although it is predominantly a candidate-driven market, when it comes to specialised areas, the initiative to obtain specialised knowledge needs to precede the expectation. From the employers’ end, a level of flexibility is required, particularly in emerging markets, as well as the commitment to invest in further training for employees.

The primary recent example which comes to mind is the scrambling towards the introduction of the Regulation (EU) 2016/679 – the much-discussed General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. Of course, there couldn’t be a situation where professionals had obtained prior practical experience, since this was a new regulation. However, there was certainly an opportunity to develop or, rather, start developing an expertise in the area, primarily by understanding more than just the main concept.

We have experienced a situation, and have heard of other experiences, where professionals operating in the area were very eager to take on the advisory side of this new regulation with the ultimate aim of aligning businesses to the requirements of GDPR. This is undoubtedly an obvious business approach which saw main players in this area set up whole departments to cater for the influx of requests.

That is all well and good, and it is certainly an approach which is required in order to make sure other businesses put their mind at rest that they will be fully compliant. Unfortunately, this did not always work out as planned. From time immemorial, the main reason for seeking legal and accounting advice is to entrust a situation in the hands of a professional who will in turn adopt a practical approach in order to ensure business continuity with minimal disruption, and ensure that clients feel they are in safe hands. This concept of safety is, unfortunately, sometimes underestimated, yet of paramount importance. If the professional you have entrusted an issue to does not inspire trust, or does not deliver to the level expected, it is unlikely that there will be a return on investment in the aspect of returning business or even referrals. More often than not, the primary complaint is that while professionals would have acquired the knowledge from a theoretical perspective, there is little effort in those practical elements which make an enormous difference to clients. A proper understanding from a practical perspective undoubtedly takes more time as it involves the full comprehension of your client’s needs, as well as ensuring that the professional development has been thorough and has not just skimmed the surface.

Recruitment

A similar example is the area of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. There is a general consensus that there are some areas within blockchain which are quite vague. The developments within this area are yet to be seen due to the upcoming regulations. Yet there is a lot of information to be obtained which can give rise to a number of opportunities for further personal development.

From a recruitment perspective, we often encounter candidates who seek to find employment within new and upcoming areas, as well as clients needing to engage professionals willing to develop within these areas. This is definitely something we encourage, and gives a lot of hope to businesses seeking to develop and expand in these areas. There are also great results when potential candidates do more than simply skim the surface of such new developing areas of practice.

While experience in the area the employer is seeking to recruit for is definitely an asset, there are different experiences and areas of expertise which are more easily transferable to one another. More importantly, where one can show that – notwithstanding practising in a particular area – a certain amount of in-depth training was undertaken, it will ensure that the transition to a different area of expertise is smoother for all concerned.

The ultimate advantage for professionals who would have dedicated the time to grasping the details of such new concepts is a dedication towards a more holistic approach within their practice, coupled with an enhanced possibility of changing areas of specialisation and truly undertaking the path to becoming experts within that area. Transferable skills are also to be taken into consideration, which would mean that any continuous development efforts need to be carefully considered.

We cannot have a situation where such development is undertaken at random, without it being well thought out, yet still have the expectation of transitioning easily. Whether we are considering the situation within the accountancy profession where a certain number of hours are required or within the legal profession, where such development is not regulated or enforced, it needs to be conducive to the individual’s development in order to ensure that there is a thorough understanding of the practical aspects and is not solely limited to theoretical exposure.

Visit Konnekt.com or email Caroline at caroline@konnekt.com for finance and legal career opportunities.


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