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Exploring the contribution of workplace learning to an HRD strategy in the Scottish legal profession

Watson, Sandra; Harmel-Law, Amanda


Sandra Watson

Amanda Harmel-Law


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the relevance of human resource development
(HRD) for law firms in the UK. It examines how the characteristics of legal professional practice in the
UK, including the partnership structure, long established methods of targeting solicitors and the law
society, may act as barriers to the implementation of HRD.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper uses an exploratory case study research approach to
investigate characteristics and issues influencing the adoption of HRD in a Scottish legal firm. Primary
data are collected via semi-structured interviews with a cross-section of representatives.
Findings – Despite recognition of the importance of learning, the characteristic elements of law
firms, including the partnership structure; the pervasiveness of time-billed targets in the solicitor
community; and HR’s profile and acceptance among the solicitor community, remain as barriers to the
applicability of HRD. The research also exposes variability on the level and scope of development
opportunities, an emphasis on technical skills development, and a lack of solicitors’ self-managed
learning ability.
Research limitations/implications – While the research findings provide a useful insight into the
barriers to HRD in one legal firm, this does not allow for any generalisations being drawn from the
Practical implications – The paper explores the suitability of workplace learning to support legal
professional development.
Originality/value – There is a dearth of research into HRD in legal practices in the UK. The paper
contributes to the contextual influences that limit the applicability of HRD to legal professional


Watson, S., & Harmel-Law, A. (2010). Exploring the contribution of workplace learning to an HRD strategy in the Scottish legal profession. Journal of European industrial training, 34, 7-22.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 26, 2010
Deposit Date Jun 14, 2012
Print ISSN 0309-0590
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 34
Pages 7-22
Keywords Human resource development; Law; Legal profession; Scotland; workplace learning;
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