Effective Software Training for Law Offices

By Wells H. Anderson

In small firms and solo practice, you need both good software and good software training to reach your potential. Whether your goal is giving better service to your clients, reducing the stress of heavy workloads, or becoming more profitable, training makes a vital contribution.
In this article you will find:
•    Collected wisdom of a crowd of trainers.
•    Training tips and techniques.
•    Pitfalls, no-no’s, and traps.
•    Approaches for happier, better-trained colleagues and staff.
•    Keys to increasing income through greater productivity.

For this article I drew on the wisdom of a roomful of people who regularly train lawyers and staff to use software for practice management, scheduling, document creation, task management, timekeeping, billing, and more—all the tasks performed in law offices. First we had our panel come up with key questions about software training. Then we presented these questions to legal technology consultants, giving answers from the panelists and asking for answers from the audience. Our panelists were Sandra Adams, Onsiteam Advisors, www.onsiteam.com; Matt Stone, 7 Second System, www.7secondsystem.com; Jeff Stouse, Excedere Training and Consulting, www.excedere.com; and me.

Some of these questions have more importance for firms with ten, 20, or more people, but most apply to solo practices as well as small, medium, and large firms.
Underlying themes in the answers about best training practices include:
•    Tailor the training to the particular needs of the practice and its people. One size does not fit all.
•    Carefully match the training approaches and materials to the people and the nature of their work.
•    Communicate, communicate, communicate!

People and Goals
Question: Who are the critical people to talk to before designing and conducting training?
•    Meet with the champions of the software.
•    People who say: “We need to know how to do X.”
•    Personnel manager.
•    Someone who can identify the “troublemakers.”
•    Logistics person.

Question: What do you need to find out from these critical people?
•    Hot buttons or pain points.
•    Security requirements.
•    Briefing from upper-tier staff. Ask: “How do you do what you do?”
•    Briefing from any expert who customized the program, whether internal or outside consultant.

Question: What points can you make to address typical price resistance to training?
•    Explain that the firm is spending time in training up front to receive big payoffs in time savings again and again.
•    Emphasize that training defuses anxiety and fear about the transition to new software.
•    Explain that the program is large and has so many features because the developers need to make it work for everyone. The learners only need to learn what is important for the firm. Training is key to make sure that is what they learn.
•    Tell them that after they learn how to use one part of the program, their learning is extensible to other parts of the program that they need to master later. The initial training is vital for that foundation.

Training Options
Question: Should you give demos to the whole firm before training?
•    Yes, if the firm is not generally familiar with the software. Give a separate administrative demo.
•    It depends on firm size and preference of key decision makers.
•    Yes, an initial presentation helps the firm identify training objectives.
•    Yes, people need to know why they are in training.
•    Yes, to engage everyone in the process.
•    Yes, an ice cream social event can be a great start.
•    Yes, to set clear expectations.
•    Yes, learners should know ahead of time what they will learn.

Question: Hands-on training or lecture style?
•    Offer both, but hands-on takes three times as long.
•    Hybrid: Walk around and give individual instruction after lecture training.
•    Computer labs for hands-on work in small groups.
•    Hands-on for HotDocs with their own short document.
•    Push for hands-on. Lecture only if time is very limited.
•    Lunch-and-learns.
•    Lecture-style sessions in small groups—with flexible scheduling—move faster.
•    Also go to each individual user to identify particular changes to make him/her more efficient.

Question: When does webinar training work?
•    In small groups, under two hours.
•    When you set the expectations, the ground rules, and the finish line.
•    For targeted, task-based, topical instruction.
•    Not for comprehensive learning of a broad range of functions.
•    When someone on-site is present and in charge.
•    When you have run a successful pilot class at the firm.
•    In one-on-one settings, with individual follow-up.
•    Never when you try an open Q-and-A session with more than a few learners.
•    When you also use a remote-control application such as GoToMyPC or VNC to view multiple learners’ screens while you present.
•    Live video with webcams is still not as good as being there.
•    When you can use video surveillance hardware supporting pan and zoom to see the learners as you present.
•    When each learner is at a PC rather than a small group watching one screen.
•    When you use the “Change Presenter” button in GoToMeeting to switch from viewing your screen to viewing a learner’s screen.
•    When you use superior products for creating training materials, such as Camtasia for videos, SnagIt for screen shots, and Acrobat for handouts.
•    Keep in mind different learning styles. Some learn better with screen videos they control, rather than in a lecture.

Training Materials and Technologies
Question: What should training materials cover?
•    Build materials for the four or five customized tasks that the firm does most often.
•    Provide stock training materials for standard functions.
•    Build custom links and navigators into the software from the training materials. Incorporating the materials into the software helps overcome price resistance to fees for training materials.

Question: What are the best formats for training materials?
•    Videos—Camtasia.
•    Verbal explanations.
•    Screen shots and diagrams.
•    Training materials customized for each firm.
•    Modular training materials instead of one large PDF file.

Question: What technologies do you use for remote live training?
•    GoToAssist Express ( www.gotoassist.com): A remote support service supporting on-demand screen sharing without installing anything ahead of time on the learner’s computer; available on a subscription basis from Citrix Online.
•    GoToMeeting ( www.gotomeeting.com): An online meeting service supporting screen sharing for up to 20 people; available on a subscription basis from Citrix Online.
•    GoToMyPC ( www.gotomypc.com): A remote-control service available on a subscription basis from Citrix Online.
•    GoToWebinar ( www.gotowebinar.com): An online meeting service supporting screen sharing for up to 1,000 people; available on a subscription basis from Citrix Online.
•    LogMeIn Pro ( www.logmein.com): A remote-control service available on a subscription basis from LogMeIn.
•    LogMeIn Rescue ( www.logmein.com): A remote support service supporting on-demand screen sharing without installing anything ahead of time on the learner’s computer; available on a subscription basis from LogMeIn.
•    WebEx ( www.webex.com): An online meeting service supporting screen sharing for up to 25 people; available on a subscription basis from Cisco.
•    Windows Remote Assistance ( www.microsoft.com): A remote-control feature of the Windows operating systems supporting screen sharing.

Question: What are the pros and cons of the remote live training technologies?
•    GoToAssist Express. Pros: Very fast to connect with a single learner. No previous software installation required on the learner’s computer. No problems with firewalls or router issues. No software installation on the learner’s computer. Clipboard, hotkeys, and file transfer work between computers. Mark on the screen with presentation tools. Cons: Not free. Connect with anyone, but only one at a time.
•    GoToMeeting. Pros: Connect with multiple learners. Easy to connect. Transfer control to anyone. Share anyone’s computer during a session. Mark on the screen with presentation tools. Cons: Not free. Leaves a small program installed on the learner’s computer.
•    GoToMyPC. Pros: Quickly invite a single learner to view your screen. Fast file transfer. Has additional value as a means for accessing your PC from anywhere. If the learner has an account, you can quickly access the learner’s screen. Cons: Not free. Connect with anyone, but only one at a time. Unlike other services designed to assist others, you can’t share the learner’s screen unless the learner has a paid subscription.
•    GoToWebinar. Pros: Designed for managing sign-ups and presenting to a large number of people. Supports switching control and switching screens among multiple presenters. Allows audio broadcast over the web and/or telephone. Integrated free teleconferencing (not 800 number). Cons: Not free. More features means more to learn as the presenter.
•    LogMeIn Pro. Pros: Similar to GoToMyPC. Cons: Not free. Connect with anyone, but only one at a time. Cannot share the learner’s screen unless the learner is a subscriber.
•    LogMeIn Rescue. Pros: Similar to GoToAssist Express. Includes support for smart phones and mobile device configuration. Cons: Not free. $50 more per month than GoToAssist.
•    WebEx. Pros: Connect with multiple learners. Similar to GoToMeeting. Cons: Not free.
•    Windows Remote Assistance. Pros: Free. Cons: Connect with anyone, but only one at a time. Difficult or impossible to establish connection with some Windows XP users owing to firewalls and NAT router issues.

Nature of Class Sessions
Question: How many users should be in each class?
•    Five.
•    Eight.
•    Ten.

Question: What are the best ways to divide learners for class sessions?
•    Lawyers; tech-savvy staff; low-tech practice groups.
•    Support; lawyers.
•    Show-stopper: learners with limited PC abilities. They need pre-training.
•    To reduce costs, use a train-the-trainer approach, teaching the best in the group, who then teach the others.
•    Practice area teams.

Question: How long should each class be?
•    Two hours.
•    You’ll be lucky to get a lawyer for one-hour classes.
•    Half-day sessions with two breaks.
•    If the learners already have experience with the software and understand the concept of the new material, you can go all day.
•    One and one-half to two hours if not hands-on or not engaged.

Question: How long should you wait between classes?
•    Whatever you can get away with. Classes may need to be back-to-back owing to travel.
•    Sessions must be continuous if the learners cannot do their jobs without first receiving full training.
•    Do concept training ahead of time and hands-on training as near to the rollout day as possible.
•    Train in phases for comprehensive, extended training.

Question: Should in-person training be on-site or off-site?
•    There is no easy answer.
•    Off-site is better. Learners can focus on the training without interruption.
•    It may be hard or impossible to schedule everyone for off-site training.
•    It is best for lawyers to learn at an off-site location, but they may balk at the time commitment.

Question: How do you get people to come to training?
•    Lawyers are the hardest ones to persuade to come. They may have conflicts that they learn about at the last minute.
•    Offer each person a $50 bonus for each day of training they attend. It may sound like a trivial amount for high-priced lawyers, but it works as a real incentive for them.
•    Build enthusiasm with pre-training meetings that clearly show the direct benefits for lawyers and staff who learn how to use the new system well.

Question: How do you get people to buy in and pay attention?
•    No answering phones. Collect all cell phones and store them securely during class.
•    Make it interactive; they have to respond.
•    In lecture-style sessions, get the group closer together, not spread out across the room.
•    Be energetic and passionate.
•    Be empathetic.
•    Ask questions.

After the Initial Training
Question: When should you schedule follow-up training?
•    Follow-up training is critical. Collect questions in advance and allow for an open-ended Q-and-A session within a week or two after training.
•    If more advanced training is needed in some areas after the initial training, allow at least three weeks for learners to use the software before holding the advanced training.

Question: How do you train new staff hired after the main training?
•    An instructional video, especially for the overview and introductory material, can pay for itself many times over.
•    One-to-one training by a skilled peer or supervisor.
•    Written manual and “cheat-sheets” are extremely valuable.
•    Have the new person “shadow” another who does the same or nearly the same type of work.
•    Set up remote training sessions with the original instructor using GoToMyPC, GoToMeeting, or the like.

A good training experience requires careful and comprehensive preparation. From defining what people need to choosing training methods and materials, each step is significant. Use the wisdom of our crowd of experts to guide you in providing training to the people in your office.

Wells H. Anderson, J.D., a veteran legal technology consultant, runs Active Practice LLC. A Time Matters software expert, he works remotely with lawyers and staff across North America. He may be reached at info@activepractice.com.

Copyright 2009

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