Beyond the 20% – Training in a Legal Environment

Beyond the 20% – Training in a Legal Environment

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Ninth Annual Canadian Bar Association Law Firm Leadership Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The conference theme was “The New Economics: Sustainability in Changing Times.” I was part of a panel that included Karen Mackay and Stephen Mabey. We batted cleanup with the topic, “Takeaway: One Good Idea.” One of the themes that crossed all subjects at the conference was “doing more with what you have.”

This is particularly pertinent in the technology arena. Some technologists and IT Directors are all about the upgrades. They love to brag about running the latest and greatest versions of Microsoft tools. They can look complex to do, requiring great thought and make it look like IT is busy and moving forward. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. Taking the constant upgrade path is quite simple to do.  It requires little thinking and while it may look like IT is busy, they are spending lots of money and at most, treading water.

Choosing not to upgrade, trying to figure out how to wring out more from what you’ve already got can get very complex. It requires a great deal of thought and can truly move your firm forward. I prefer the “intelligent upgrade” approach to software, analyzing the new features and value of each upgrade against the business goals of the firm. Sometimes an upgrade, with its costs, disruptions and short term productivity reduction is simply not worth the effort or spending the partnership’s money. It can be smarter to skip versions that offer no real value to the business or the practice of law. Keep in mind that getting too far out of sync with the rest of the world is also one of the factors to consider in your analysis.
So if I’m not going to upgrade at Microsoft’s or other vendor whims, what can I focus on? How about training? It has been said that law firm users can use maybe 20% of the tools that their IT staff provides them. If that sounds like a pretty pathetic number, it’s because it is. It varies by person, by position and other factors, but all-in-all, as an average, I think it is very accurate.

How do we get people to use more than 20%?

1. In many law firms, in order to move your training program forward, you’ll have to work at some cultural change. Some law firm cultures are downright hostile toward training. I lay a good portion of the blame at the feet of the billable hour and the attorney compensation formulas. It creates the conditions where staff training is mandatory and attorney training is optional.

2. Work to get your training program endorsed by senior management. Do all you can to increase its visibility and importance. Share success stories with your users.

3. You need to know what your people use. For most law firms, Outlook and Word are the top tools. The document management system and then other parts of the Microsoft Office suite often come next. For litigation attorneys, maybe it’s eDiscovery tools. Whatever it might be, target the tools that get used day in and day out, where that increased knowledge will translate directly into increased proficiency.

4. Utilize the calls and questions to the help desk to see what people do and do not do well. Focus your initial training there. Don’t forget to consult the lawyer’s unofficial help desk, the secretaries.

5. In addition to traditional classroom education, create small, self-service, learning modules. If you don’t have those skills or capabilities in-house or you simply need to take them to the next level, then outsource it.

6. When adjusting attorney/secretary and other staff ratios, look at the training required to support your new configurations or new expectations.

7. Examine your work flows and see if the work is flowing in the most efficient way to the people with the right skills to execute it. Do your attorneys spend hours creating ‘bad’ documents only to pass them onto secretaries or word processors that then also spend hours reformatting them?

You’d be surprised what time savings and efficiencies you can uncover when people know how to truly use the tools you’ve given them.  Who knows, with a little bit of work, maybe your law firm can be the first to pass D. Casey Flaherty’s technology test.  You say you don’t have Kia Motors America as a client? Don’t worry. It won’t be long before your clients are doing this too. Of course you can ignore the need and fail the test. Then I might argue you’ll have no worries because you’ll have no clients. Work to pass Casey’s test. Then of course he will simply make his test harder. The bar will only go higher. Start now.

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @jeffrey_brandt, and keep the dialogue going.