I have been very interested in the series of posts regarding law firm training that Casey Flaherty has written this week on the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog. You can read them here, here, here, and here. I’ve alternately cheered and been incensed by his content. Originally, I was pleased with the additional emphasis on technology training in law firms. Now, I’m not so sure. Mainly, though, I thought it was time someone involved in law firm training (who wasn’t restricted by their firm’s social media policy) spoke up and explained the reality of being a trainer or training manager in a law firm, so here goes! Maybe this will help open Casey’s eyes a little wider, so he can see what he’s really up against on his path to change training in law firms.
Can I get some help here?
As Casey has experienced, there is little upper management support for technology training in most law firms. With the exception of various bar associations, I feel I can safely assert that no one has ever been brave enough to insist that attorneys, especially partners, attend technology training on a regular basis. Because of the ever-looming annual CLE stick, there may be slightly more support on the professional development side of the firm, but even they do not have the full support of management (see my prior post here for more on that).
Want to know how much support for training there is in your firm? Check and see if there’s a non-billable matter number for it. If not, then that is a sure indication that associates will not be attending training. They are under the gun to bill those hours and even afraid to be away from their desks when a partner comes by. Yes, I have actually been told that. Without management’s real and stated support for training initiatives within a firm, successes will be small and short-lived. There are simply too many other pressing needs, even when they have e-learning modules or virtual training they can attend from their desks. Hats off to my training compadres who keep trying though!
Who’s on first?
In most firms, technology training falls under the IT department. This is good in that training (hopefully) has a good hold on what technology projects are coming, but I know from personal experience that is not always the case. I and other training managers have had to fight for training to be part of IT project teams at the outset, instead of thrown in at the end as an afterthought, which then makes it seem as if training is delaying the project.
Being involved early and providing well thought out, engaging training led to over a 90% attendance rate by the attorneys when we rolled out the last desktop at my prior firm, so it can be done! All it really takes is good design, some creative thinking and advertising, and the support of a few attorney champions with a good amount of influence amongst their peers. Unlike Casey, I want to leave the readers of this piece and law firm trainers with some positive thoughts on law firm training to go along with the negative.
Money, it’s a gas.
Another challenge is that most CIOs are quick to adapt to and learn technology, so they rarely understand the importance of training for those who are less technically adept. This also means that the first area in an IT department that usually gets cut is training. I and my many RIF’d trainer friends can personally attest to that. Additionally, many CIOs come from the network or hardware side of the house. Therefore, if someone needs $10,000 for a piece of network equipment, that’s no problem, but try asking for that amount of money for a game-changing, long-term piece of learning software and wait for them to laugh you out of their office. Tools for producing decent software simulations have been available for years. Many law firm trainers simply have not had access to them.
Because training is seen as low value or even part-time work, many trainers are required to take on additional roles in their firms or IT departments. We are happy to help out, but it becomes ridiculous when a highly skilled and knowledgeable trainer is relieving the receptionist. Yes, that’s another true story.
Change is hard
…even for trainers who are usually a firm’s agents of change. I heartily agree with Casey that there are problems with some law firm training. I have sat through the yawn-inducing, lecture-based, demo style training to which he has referred. What he obviously does not know though is that many times we are forced to do that style of training to get everyone trained quickly or because someone didn’t want to delay the project a few days, so we could prepare e-learning videos for people to watch at their convenience instead. Perhaps the firm’s sole trainer was tied up with new hire training.
Unfortunately, delivering information has passed for training for far too long, so it has been our fallback position. Listen up, people! If there is little to no learning taking place, then it isn’t training (more on that in a future post). I challenge my fellow trainers who are stuck in a training rut to stretch beyond good enough, push back when you are able, and figure out a better way to design and deliver your training.
Ironically, just before sitting down to write this, I ran across Seth Godin’s blog for today, which said, “It’s frightening to acknowledge a problem, if we don’t know that there’s a solution.” Many law firm trainers came up through the ranks of law firms and do not have degrees in education or instructional design, but they have law firm knowledge in abundance! Unfortunately, the precious dollars allotted for their professional development are usually spent to help them keep up with their firm’s technology, instead of learning and development trends and advancements. Therefore, without some significant changes, the way forward may not be as easy or evident as some may think.
But we’ve always done it that way.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an Association for Talent Development (ATD, formerly ASTD) national conference soon after becoming a trainer. This opened up a whole world of resources for me, and I’ve spent many of my non-work hours studying to improve my training chops and keep up with advancements in learning and development. I have also paid it forward by using my volunteer role as an ILTA officer to share with other law firm trainers (webinar recordings are located here). However, for every small step forward, it seems like there is someone higher up the ladder in the firm shoving you back by asking, “What are other firms doing?” or telling you that they used to do training. ARGH!!! Just because other firms are doing it a certain way or it was done that way 20 years ago, does not mean that’s the best approach now.
Designing engaging training takes more than reading a few articles and learning big words like pedagogical and synchronous. Sure, everyone recognizes good and bad training when they see it, but try designing and executing it in a fast-paced, law firm environment where technology changes rapidly. I love doing it, but will readily admit that it is challenging. It involves both brain science and creativity, and is constantly evolving based on new information about how people learn and new technologies being developed to support learning.
In June, I attended mLearnCon and the Performance Support Symposium, co-located national conferences focused on mobile learning and performance support, only two of many discrete areas of learning. I wish that the training vendors focused on the legal vertical would offer solutions as creative, engaging, and effective as the ones I saw. My head was spinning with ideas and possibilities based on the new technology for learning exhibited and discussed there! If you want a brief sampling of some areas of development and trends in learning, Google “edtech” or check out the Debunker Club and Serious eLearning Manifesto sites. If you feel like learning even more, peruse my recent posts here.
In conclusion. Casey, I hope this will help you understand that the last thing law firm trainers and training managers need is another attorney giving them grief for providing training that is less than optimal. I applaud you for trying to move things forward, but I am still not convinced that you are on the right path or understand as much about designing training as you think you do. I would love to sit down over coffee or a beer and hear your thoughts though. In the meantime, kudos to my trainer peers who are making it happen every day! Hope to see you in Vegas at ILTACON!
This post was previously posted on LinkedIn here.