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Professional Empowerment Series - Chapter 3: Skilling

Madhukar N Hiregange 
Updated on 27 October 2020

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Professional skills could be varied. We all know that bookish knowledge alone cannot make a man. The client comes to us with his/ her problems and needs, and we should be up to their expectations. "The best yardstick for our progress is not other people, but ourselves. Am I better than I was yesterday? This is the only question worth asking. As long as you go to bed at night a better practitioner than the one who woke up that morning, you have succeeded. Your worth should have nothing to do with how your progress stacks up relative to another." - Chris Matakas,

I have not done much study on this area other than looking at what skill is lacking in me or has become apparent and then understanding and learning that. As we grow we may need to add to the basket of skills we have. Continuously sharpening them (like the woodcutter spending 2 hours sharpening his axe before cutting trees) is a necessity for staying relevant in the fast-changing world. What I found to give results were shared in the community in the last decade or so. 

In my understanding skilling could be broken up into:

A. Subject Related skills [Example is taken of IDT since I am familiar with that]
B. Communication skills [google]
C. Leadership skills [google]
D. Technological skills [google]

Professional Empowerment Series - Chapter 3: Skilling

Subject Related skills

These could include skills like reading (speed reading), drafting, analytical, time management, and problem-solving skills. The google platform provides quite a lot of information on time management and reading. There are courses that provide online training - free as well as paid. The IDTC committee had a course litigation management in which drafting has also been covered. 

There is very little about how one can go about building analytical skills. Therefore this may need special coverage. It would also indicate that for acquiring any skill a structured approach needs to be taken and time dedication with commitment would ensure completion.

How To build Analytical Skills for IDT/ FTP Advice/ Litigation?

This note attempts to collate some material on this important skill set for us to develop ourselves to be able to provide improved advice, representation, and value to our clients. It would also bring tremendous originality along with interest to even our repetitive work. At times we are stuck to cut paste of some parts for years and at times decades and do not have pride in our work.

Definition in Wikipedia- Analytical skill is defined as the ability to visualize, articulate, conceptualize, or solve both complex and uncomplicated problems by making decisions that are sensible given the available information. Such skills include a demonstration of the ability to apply logical thinking to breaking complex problems into their component parts.

Though not an expert, I have attempted to collate some information and taken inputs from a few professionals as I could not find comprehensive coverage on this subject.

Why Analytical Skills for a CA or Lawyer?

A CA or lawyer provides tax consultancy and litigation services to his clients. It would involve an analysis of complex business transactions and scenarios. He has to visualize the business scenarios and transactions and tax implications and conceptualize ideas to resolve the issues or offer solutions to problems encountered. Even in litigation practice a CA or lawyer is supposed to not only understand the fact matrix but also offer legal solutions and conceive and develop arguments to counter the charges leveled against his client by the department. Thus the analytical skills of a CA or lawyer should be honed and developed, which would enable him to offer the best services.

This could be done by self-learning along with attending relevant certificate courses. Keeping oneself updated with changes in knowledge as well as skills and their positive impact on self and organization is to be kept in mind. In the firm, one should be a part of the knowledge initiatives and should not miss the opportunity of discussion/presentation. Attending seminars/webinars by others in related areas would also help tremendously. Get an understanding of old case laws as relevant to GST. Understand the link of the Constitution and legal maxims to GST. 

 

Step 2: Approach to get an investigative, questioning mind

When working on an opinion, reply, appeal - do not get satisfied with the simple view (it may be right for all you know). Look at alternatives. Understand the issue in detail - some small aspect may trigger new thinking. Arrive at multiple answers. Play the devils' advocate and question from the opposite side. Challenge the present or old view. Think of the short term impact on the vendors/ customers on the interpretation. Most times we are limited by what we remember of what we have heard, read or thought of some time in the past. The wisdom of Court decisions in Central Excise, VAT, CST & Service tax (many aspects borrowed with or without any change) can be re-examined at the time of the preliminary study. Here we may like to examine from the angle of - how the facts are the same or different in any problem and the applicability of the decision in the law being examined. One easy way is to list the judgments for and against and examine all - especially the ones which are against.

Researching on future problems possible could be a wonderful way of growing this skill exponentially.

Step 3: Improve analytical skills:

The working of maths (some of us hate it), working out puzzles, sudoku, word games, crossword (newspapers provide everyday challenges). Join a debate/ study group. Answering the questions posted by visitors on websites like Caclubindia

Once you understand and develop the basics of improving this skill- teach in schools, colleges, and to your juniors. Watch/ participate/ organize in Moot Courts. Many other basic skills needed to improve the analysis discussed further.

Step 4: Expanding the horizons of problem-solving:

The answer to a problem starts with the decryption of the problem. A problem could be either a very generic problem or it could be a complex problem. After decrypting a problem, before straight forward pushing to answer, explore the multiple dimensional aspects of the problem. The aspects could be directly linked or could be analogically linked also. Once a problem is explored, and multiple related aspects are discovered, the solver is in the best position to answer most aspect of the problem and not just the answer to the straight forward question. Unless the problem is identified properly, there cannot be a solution.

Step 5: Start incorporating latin maxims andjudicially used words in the drafted content.

One maxim in Latin speaks thousands of English words. No need to over-use, of course. These maxims are settled legal principles and are used by Courts frequently and do not need any further debate. It can be used to solve complex legal issues for which the statute may not offer any solution.

 

Step 6: Maintain working papers - Capture your original thoughts:

Often we try to solve a problem on the web itself. During the problem-solving process, multiple thoughts come and go by. Some thoughts are relevant for the particular job at hand and some are not. The thoughts which are not relevant for the particular (where-ever not documented/ captured for posterity) vanish completely. These thoughts could have been relevant for some other job, but without documenting the same, the same is not available for use therein. Documenting the thoughts is therefore important in some indexed file on your desktop/ laptop. Some professionals maintain a book or case notebook.

Step 7: Distinguishing between the work necessary [settled problem] Vs the new work required:

A problem that has no precedence whatsoever is something on which the analytical should be applied. On the other hand, a problem that has a binding and settled precedence should be carefully read. Distinguishing between the problem therefore helps in determining the work necessary and the work required. If there are no precedents then it would call for original thinking using all the legal and analytical skills cultivated.

Step 8: Other skills:

Some other skills which lead to more analytical thinking could be as under:

(i) Listening (including observation). It is important here to stop generalizing or making a judgment when listening to others. A good listener would be a good problem solver. Many times solutions appear while listening.

(ii) Logical skills in other domain areas ( not only any IDT) - entrepreneurship.

(iii) Regression + Data analysis + understanding trends/ patterns.

(iv) Develop common sense (it is not genetic), which is useful to resolve issues and is more acceptable.

All of the above could lead us to think critically as well as out of the box. Suffice to say that these skills can be developed and cultivated and need not be inherent or inborn.

Communication Skills and Vocabulary:

The very existence of humans is through language and communication. A professional's skill is recognized by the way he communicates or articulates his thoughts. Perception of excellence is as important as delivering high quality. Therefore developing good communication (oral and writing) with good vocabulary is an essential trait for a successful CA or lawyer. 

Leadership skills:

One of my goals in life was and is to develop knowledgeable and committed professionals as leaders. I have spent more than 1000 hours in the past several years on upskilling staff more in the operational areas. Again in this area, there is more than enough material on google. Readers may do this self-study by allocating sufficient time [ 50-100 hours] I myself am enrolled for a long term training for honing my leadership skills with mindvalley.com. It is helping me to re-orient, refocus to understand what I want today, and make my dreams a reality.

As far as trends today are concerned, the way in which one adapts has become so critical as the last 100 years of change are likely to happen in the next 5 years!!!!

There are many videos on communication and leadership skills that can be acquired by extensive reading the listening to podcasts. What could be critical is that allocating 1 hour for skilling oneself every day or 10 hours per week, 500 hours a year, and seeing that we discipline ourselves to go thru that regimen would have to result in success. All the celebrities in the world put in extra time to excel in their chosen profession. Choose anyone and read their biographies/ see their life if available on video.

Technology Skills:

The need to integrate technology, adopt available ones ( for our clients as well as in our working) and create new ones is also something which is a bit of a challenge for the “old fossil" that I am growing into. Working on the mobile without distraction is what I think is the biggest problem today. I am not competent to share anything on this subject.

Read the next article in the series: Professional Empowerment Series - Chapter 4: Getting the Requisite Experience
 


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