When did you last learn something?

Continuing Professional Development (“CPD”): This should mean something more than “How many hours have I got on the clock”. And lawyers, being lawyers, always leave things to the last minute to wake up to the fact that:

(a) they can’t find their training record; and

(b) they probably haven’t amassed enough hours to satisfy their professional obligations (“Is it 16 hours? I just can’t remember how many hours I need!”).

But, worse still, many lawyers end up attending courses, internally or externally, that are devoid of any educational element. Far from learning anything they see it as a chore.

I don’t recall a single occasion where a lawyer came back from a course and praised either the speaker or content. It was just “OK” which is a euphemism for saying it was rubbish and a waste of time.

I know firms will have got smarter in terms of their training budget, but the mindset of development/learning hasn’t changed: it is still perceived as a necessary evil. Training should lie at the core of any appraisal process. If someone is to get better, how are they supposed to do so without ongoing training?

Training, to have meaning, should:

  1. Be highly relevant;
  2. Be in your face, punchy, not delivered in a verbose style and allow for audience participation;
  3. Be repeated again and again (I was always taught that repetition was the mother of all learning);
  4. And it needs to be applied quickly: Use it or lose it.

It is not just about having more lawyered lawyers but it should be focused on developing the talents, expectations and needs of every person in the firm. It doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. You just need to create an atmosphere where learning is valued. There are too many people in practice who feel that their education ended when they left law school, and almost everything they need can be acquired by doing, doing, doing the work.

Even if you are of a size where no one person has the time to assume the role of training principal, there is no point expecting fee earners to grow into the role of ‘all-rounder’ whilst  being short of the (trained) skill set that you are expecting.

Make training fun. Look for new ways of delivering it.

Training is a daily occurrence. It doesn’t always have to be scripted, pre-planned and formulaic. It is far better that it results in a call to action than someone going away with some pretty Powerpoint slides that they never look at again.

How about going for a TED style conference or an even shorter format which allows for audience participation.

You should know what skills your people possess. If you don’t by asking a few simple questions, you are bound to unearth a whole raft of hidden talents that can be deployed in your training initiatives across the firm.

Make sure that you get regular feedback from your teams on when they last learnt something. Not about the latest change in the law – although that is very important as well – but rather their individual skiils, listening and emotional intelligence being key for any lawyer.

As we approach the new fianancial year make sure that the training budget isn’t just a numbers exercise. You need to ensure that come next year every person in your firm can look back and say: “WOW I learnt so much this past year!”

~ JS ~

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