Solutions to the Law Firm Training Problem?

Tami Schiller was kind enough to present a few ideas in the comments to that last post, and I definitely agree with what she had to say.

In fact, the survey results themselves show some growth in the areas of alternative learning, with more firms using webcasts, podcasts and other time-shifted training tools. That will help with attorneys who can’t take time to sit in class, and it’s something firms should be experimenting with.

On the other hand, as much as we are seeing more attorneys and law firm staff embrace new technologies, like Google Docs and various other Web 2.0 tools, they are still in the minority. Most attorneys do not know anything about RSS, Twitter, or colloboration tools like Sharepoint or Wiki’s. The consideration of using tools like this in the firm comes from the IT department, or from individual users who are less tech adverse than the norm.

The bottom line is still that attorneys, and staff, don’t make learning a priority, because firm management does not make learning a priority. Revenue and billable hours are a priority, as well they should be, and attorneys and staff do everything they can to meet their goals in those areas. Some firms make community service a priority, or charitable giving, or practice development things like getting published, getting speaking engagments, etc. and all of those goals get met. Learning how to take advantage of technology is not a priority.

So we’ve got a growing number of firms starting to dedicate staff time and resources to developing training programs, but hardly any of them doing anything but pay lip service to measuring whether their users actually develop any skills because of it. Until someone comes out and says “you are going to held accountable for developing tech skills, it’s a part of your professional development, and this many hours should be dedicated to it”, it’s never going to be a big priority for attorneys, and if it’s not a big priority for attorneys, they won’t be encouraging their staff to do it either.

But, the legal industry doesn’t really work that way. As Tom O’Connor said today in regards to a recent decision:

No, the real problem is one that Browning Marean and I have been trying to combat for over a year and that Ralph himself so accurately pointed out in a recent column: legal education involves no computer education. Why? Because legal education still has it’s own old paradigm. The one that working with a keyboard is not “professional” and is best done by support staff and hourly employees.

Read that again. Does your firm see technical skills and legal skills as two different things, or do they see technical skills as part of good lawyering? If it’s the former, how does firm management, which is made up almost entirely of lawyers, even know how to measure the technical skills of their staff? And if they can’t, or won’t, measure those skills, what hope does a technical training program have? It’s doomed from the start!

The only solutions I see are a combination of things. One, IT must get on track with not just teaching how to use the tools, but also explaining the why. Teach people what they can do with the tools, how they can use the tools to do their jobs, or to do things that they aren’t doing now. Help them be innovative! Also, IT must continue to increase the number of training options. Not everyone is suited to sit in a classroom for training. Give them some other options.

Secondly, firm management must get out of the dark ages. It’s 2009, technology is not going away. In fact, technology is changing the way every industry in the world works, and the legal industry is no different. Just having a law degree isn’t enough any more. Good lawyers use technology to their advantage in a great many ways, to educate themselves, to network, to engage clients and to collaborate. Good firms support that, and great firms will demand it from their lawyers. If that means making technical training hours a requirement on par with CLE credit, then so be it. If that means placing less emphasis on billable hours, or even moving away from billable hours to an alternate rate structure where that makes sense, so be it.

Your firm won’t be an innovative leader in the industry if management doesn’t make it a priority to be there. Innovation requires developing some technical skills all across your organization, and having the leadership ability to take advantage of those skills.

Or, you can keep doing the same thing and see if you survive in the current economy. Good luck!

Tags: Training, Billablehours, LegalEducation

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