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Standard 6.6 on Training

Standard 6.5 | Table of Contents | Standard 6.7


A legal aid organization should provide access to ongoing and comprehensive training for all personnel. Training topics should include, at a minimum, substantive legal topics; ethics, legal representation, and trial skills; and training to ensure competence in current technology used in providing legal services.


General Considerations 

Training is an essential vehicle for ensuring the effective operation of a legal aid organization and its provision of high-quality, effective assistance that responds to the needs of client communities. It is an effective means for an organization to promote a culture that shares information, retains high-quality staff, and devises innovative methods to serve client communities. 

An organization should allocate sufficient resources for training to ensure that inexperienced individuals become proficient and that more experienced personnel increase their level of competence. An organization should develop and implement entry level and ongoing training activities within the organization, or ensure access to outside training that is timely, relevant, and responsive to ongoing professional development needs of all personnel. 

Training programs should respond to the organization's specific needs using established instructional methods that promote active, engaged, and sequential learning. They should impart knowledge, skills, and the outlook necessary for all personnel to fulfill their job functions, including managers and supervisors, accounting and human resources personnel, support staff, and advocacy staff. Training should also impart key organizational values, including ethical obligations, the appropriate means of demonstrating respect for clients, and commitment to the organization's mission. The organization's training agenda should be updated regularly in response to emerging staff and client needs. 

Training should include non-legal substantive training on organization operations, priorities and values, client eligibility requirements, issues related to client-centered representation, application of race equity principles, and the institutionalization of cultural humility training and practices that impact the quality of services and the ability to effectively serve the entire client community. In addition, when feasible, training should steer away from lecture-based sessions to more engaging, interactive methods that better meet the expectations of new practitioners. Opportunities for e-learning should be considered. Organizations should also consider creating innovative programs in-house that focus learning on problem-solving exercises and simulations of real-world issues.

Training of all Personnel 

Training should address the full range of substantive practices and skills that all personnel need in order to carry out their job duties efficiently and effectively. Practitioners should be familiar with the substantive legal matters the client community experiences and should possess the skills necessary to assist clients effectively.

It is also important that staff not directly involved in assisting clients be skilled and effective at their job functions. The professionalism with which pleadings, letters, and emails are prepared, for instance, and the courtesy with which people are treated on the telephones reflect on the quality of work that the organization produces. How well the organization's staff addresses issues, such as accounting for its funds and meeting its legal obligations, similarly affects its reputation as an effective organization. 

Outside practitioners who represent clients on behalf of the organization on a contract or a volunteer basis should also be offered training opportunities, particularly if they are assisting clients in unfamiliar areas. The organization may also call upon outside attorneys to provide training for its staff in order to impart special expertise pertinent to the work of the organization. Participation by volunteer attorneys in the organization's training events, both as trainers and trainees, can enhance recruitment and retention of participating attorneys and facilitate their integration into the organization. 

Areas of Training

Training should be tailored to the priorities set by the organization, the delivery methods used, and its method of operating, and should impart the knowledge, skills, and values pertinent to each. The organization's professional development agenda should include a broad range of training offered directly by the organization, as well as by state, regional, and national training and support entities. The organization should also take advantage of learning opportunities that are available through participation on task forces and other substantive networks. 

  • Training should be offered related to the current substantive work of the organization. Organizations that engage in community economic development or legislative and administrative advocacy, for example, should offer instruction in the law and procedures that are pertinent to its work in the area.
  • Training should also address basic skills necessary to serve clients and others effectively, including, for instance, trial skills, the use of discovery, fact-finding techniques, negotiation, and interview techniques. Basic skills also include interactions with other parties involved in the course of representation, such as court personnel and opposing counsel, through traditional means of communication, as well as remote interactions. 
  • Through training and other networking opportunities, staff should learn about emerging legal issues and devise creative and new approaches to addressing problems facing client communities. This may include working with experts in other areas of practice, such as public defenders, and in partnerships that support holistic representation.
  • Training should be offered to support the development of emerging and existing leaders. It should also address the various contexts in which leadership is exercised such as in management, advocacy, and involvement with community groups. Inviting promising leaders to serve as trainers in areas in which they have expertise can serve as a vehicle to further their leadership opportunities.
  • Accounting and human resources personnel should be given training in the skills and the substantive knowledge pertinent to their work. They should also be provided training regarding the internal systems used by the organization in their areas of responsibility.
  • Training should be provided in the use of all technologies and the systems that the organization utilizes and that are deemed necessary for the practice of law and the substantive areas of the organization. This includes training on how to safely use technology and the safeguarding of common user mistakes, including recommended computer settings to use and practices to ensure minimum exposure to malicious cyberattacks. The organization should provide staff with IT support in installing and upgrading computer and cell phone/mobile tablets security tools on a regular basis. 
  • New staff should be offered thorough orientation on program operation, as well as the expectations associated with their positions in the organization.
  • Training should be provided that conveys the knowledge, skills, and values that the organization's staff and outside attorneys need in order to interact effectively with the client community, particularly where these communities are culturally diverse.
  • All trainings should offer both in-person and remote options, and remote trainings should use all available tools to ensure robust participation, engagement, and learning.

Training methods: The organization should use a variety of training techniques that are effective for individuals with different learning styles, including the majority who learn best in interactive settings and with hands-on experience with training materials. The ideal training agenda integrates the learning into practice. Other staff who will be needed to help the recipient of training implement new knowledge and skills, such as supervisors, should be active participants in training and follow-up.Mentoring and other leadership roles require specific skills, and training should be available where needed. 

The organization should regularly evaluate the effectiveness of its training efforts.Training should be evaluated from several perspectives: 1) Did the participants learn the intended skills and knowledge? 2) Were participants able to use the skills and knowledge in their work? 3) Did the skills and knowledge lead to improved outcomes in the work? and 4) Did the format and delivery of the training ensure effective learning? Ideally, evaluations should be conducted both at the conclusion of each training and after several months in order to assess the extent to which participants have been able to put new learning into practice and have seen positive results. 

Trainings should be tracked by organizations to ensure that all practitioners are given frequent access to ongoing, relevant training. Training participants should be encouraged to routinely share the newly gained knowledge with other provider-practitioners through follow-up presentations and the sharing of relevant materials. When used properly, training evaluations can help an organization improve the quality and effectiveness of its strategies for professional development. They are also a vehicle for identifying topics for follow-up seminars and new courses. 

Budgeting Adequate Resources and Taking Advantage of External Training Opportunities

An organization should budget sufficient resources for it to develop and implement internal training and to make outside training opportunities available as appropriate. An organization facing budget reductions should resist the temptation to make disproportionate cuts in training. Expertise of current staff is crucial to maintaining a capacity for quality representation, and it is short-sighted and ultimately costly to postpone or eliminate training as a response to limited funding. To maximize the efficient use of available resources to provide high-quality training for its staff, an organization should participate in statewide, regional, and national efforts to develop and provide training.Participation in joint efforts will allow the organization to avoid duplicating the efforts of others in the delivery system and to take advantage of economies of scale. The organization should take advantage of relevant events sponsored by bar continuing legal education programs, national or state advocacy organizations, community or special interest advocacy groups, and other outside sources.