December 2018 | Around the ABA

4 ways to better associate training

Firms have revamped their associate training. Gone are the traditional hours-long, lecture-based sessions of yore, which have given way to more engaging, interactive methods that better meet the expectations of today’s young attorneys.

In her Law Practice magazine article, “Novel Ways to Train and Develop Associates,” management consultant Marcia Watson Wasserman spoke with several colleagues from the Professional Development Consortium at the forefront of this new training landscape to share the most effective ways that firms are preparing the next generation of lawyers.

“Two structural changes are making firms rethink their associate training,” explained co-founder Chris Wedgeworth of e-learning vendor Hot Shot. “First, clients are no longer willing to subsidize training, [as] they did in the past. Second, a new generation of lawyers that’s grown up on YouTube wants to learn in new ways. Firms are responding to this, saying, ‘How can we change the way we deliver training so it’s cheaper and more effective?’”

Wasserman identified four key ways that associate training has evolved to meet that challenge:

Use of technology

Wasserman reported that more firms are leveraging what technology can offer, turning to e-learning vendors.

According to CEO Steve Gluckman of LawFirmElearning, another popular vendor of online content, today’s lawyers not only want to learn on the job, but they also want education on topics they can immediately put to use.

E-learning is meeting those needs with a growing focus on more practical content.

These days topics focus on what attorneys face in everyday practice and can be immediately accessed wherever they are working, whenever it is most convenient.

“For example, when preparing for a deposition, [associates] can review a brief, on-demand learning module on the Top Five Things to Do When Preparing for a Deposition,” said Wasserman.

And beyond a shift in content, vendors are also presenting material in ways that better appeal to a generation raised on the internet, with short, focused presentations that are both engaging and entertaining, flipping preconceived notions of on-demand learning as dry and dull.

More engaging, collaborative and interactive

Wasserman found that e-learning is often coupled with in-person training that is also more interactive and collaborative than past models.

Some of the most innovative programs have been developed in-house and focus learning on problem-solving exercises and simulations of real-world issues, eschewing the traditional classroom and one-way presentations.

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner in St. Louis developed the Bryan Cave Business Academy to train associates. The participating attorneys work in teams selected for diversity and work to solve typical client issues, with actual clients in attendance to provide constructive feedback.

“Learning by doing” is also emphasized at the trial college program developed at Jones, Skelton & Hochuli in Phoenix, where their lawyers participate in mock trials.  While the program includes 10 sessions on trial basics presented in a traditional lecture-based format, participants also learn through real cases, in which they prepare and deliver opening and closing statements, as well as conduct direct- and cross-examination of lay and expert witnesses. The program even includes a mock jury that comments on the lawyers’ work and deliberates at the end. Several experienced trial lawyers also attend to provide feedback.

Teaching what’s not covered at law school

Just as e-learning has shifted to more practical topics, several of the most innovative training programs are also designed to teach skills that aren’t typically addressed at law school.

For example, the Bryan Cave Business Academy concentrates on spotting and understanding the business issues of clients.

Similarly, at Boston-based Goodwin Procter LLP, there’s a strong emphasis on topics related to servicing clients and the business of law, even including financial literacy into their training curriculum.  “We feel that it is not enough for our lawyers to be great technicians—they also need to understand how clients think and the drivers of client decision-making,” said senior manager Caitlin E. Vaughn of the firm’s goals. 

Other innovative efforts stress skill development in additional critical areas.

At Philadelphia-based Dechert LLP, lawyers can participate in a Toastmasters-type program designed to hone associates’ speaking skills.  The program is a “partner-free” zone, where participants deliver three- to five-minute presentations, and receive peer feedback.

Another notable professional development effort is the Breakfast Club at the Wiley Rein firm in Washington, D.C., where associates receive advanced professional development on such topics as body language, tone and the effective use of PowerPoint. Meeting every other month over a hot breakfast, the participants also share recent cases and upcoming presentations, learning about each other, from one another.

Bite-size content

With an emphasis on the way millennials learn, firms are developing very focused training modules that are brief and bite-size – think TED Talks and YouTube.

At Fried Frank in New York City, training is provided through e-learning technology in short modules that range from five to 15 minutes in length, broadly covering a wealth of topics to improve professional and transactional skills as well as technical proficiency.

Both Hot Shot and LawFirmElearning confirm the trend toward brief presentations, which allow users to quickly learn certain topics, right when associates need to apply the information to their work.

For more information and detail on these training initiatives, view Wasserman’s full article here.

Law Practice magazine is a publication of the ABA Law Practice Division