In the latest issue of Practice Innovations, we look at ways that law firms can make necessary technology training more palatable to their lawyers
For years, law firms and in-house law departments have invested in technology to increase efficiency and profits. The actual attorney use of these tools, however, often lags their availability, and many lawyers never use more than the most basic functions of time entry, document management, and other more customized tools that the firm provides to them.
Unfortunately, this limited proficiency increases the time required to complete basic administrative tasks like time entry, and it can also limit management analysis of firm metrics intended to reveal trends within the organization. In addition, low familiarity with legal technology may run afoul of the increasing number of mandatory bar associations’ ethical rules requiring “technical competence.”
Many professionals would welcome a more tech-savvy work environment and colleagues. A recent Thomson Reuters Institute study found that many top-performing lawyers in today’s law firms want to see improvements in how their firms leverage the technology they currently have available, with 11% of respondents listing that as their top priority. Perhaps unsurprisingly, study participants cited a lack of access to training as a significant barrier to wider adoption of technology solutions.
Four methods to increase tech training
While many law firms and in-house law departments work hard to increase technology adoption via in-house trainers or access to high-quality learning-on-demand, relatively few lawyers use these resources. Law firms and law departments might consider one of these strategies to increase lawyer interest in these valuable training resources.
1. Pin technology to specific tasks
Many lawyers have said they lack the time to attend training sessions because they need instead to focus on existing work and meeting deadlines. For them, training steals time from essential tasks like conducting legal research and writing briefs or other legal documents.
Management can combat this argument, however, by tying training to one or more of these critical tasks. For example, a training session focused on Quickly building and updating tables of authority in Microsoft Word is more likely to attract attention than a session titled Using Microsoft Word macros — even if the sessions cover approximately the same subject matter.
Other focused training might include topics such as Identifying duplicate entries in a list (rather than Basic Excel functions) and Building privilege logs (rather than Using a document review platform). Clever titles for training sessions should never mislead the attorney audience, of course, but sessions should emphasize the “life hacks” that will make repetitive lawyer tasks easier and more efficient.
2. Don’t overwhelm
In the old days (and still today), software training was generally scheduled in half-day or full-day sessions, with helpful exercises (aka, homework) used to help reinforce the classroom work. This approach requires a significant schedule commitment — something that lawyers can rarely provide. To attract a larger lawyer and paraprofessional audience, offer shorter, more-focused sessions that last 30 minutes or less.
Such sessions are consistent with the “specific task” training mentioned above, and the limited time commitment will be much easier for lawyers to schedule, especially if the same training session can be repeated on multiple days and at different times of the day.
Shorter sessions are also easier to record and make available on-demand as part of a standing training library. Such broad availability may appear to reduce an audience by spreading it across multiple sessions, but it makes the training easier to access and hopefully more popular.
3. Leverage third-party content
It’s become commonplace for do-it-yourselfers to consult YouTube, not repair manuals, to see how to complete projects and perform repairs. Similarly, a great deal of task-specific legal technology training already exists, whether on YouTube or via private libraries maintained by professional trainers.
Law firms and law departments should consider curating and licensing select content as part of an on-demand training library for its lawyers and paraprofessional staff. Such outside training should not wholly replace in-house content, as many law firms have customized templates and interfaces, especially with their time and billing systems.
However, more than one in-house trainer has noted that sometimes people pay more attention to an outside instructor than in-house resources. Thus, a good balance of the two can help maintain interest in the organization’s training program.
4. Sometimes use the stick, not just the carrot
In-house training is often sold to attorneys — that is, an effort is made to entice them to attend training sessions that in turn will be helpful for them. Sometimes however — such as when a new tool or major software upgrade is deployed — training is essential for lawyers to continue being competent at their work. In such situations, it may be appropriate to make training mandatory and to require some type of documentation that shows attorneys have completed the training.
This is not a strategy that should be used as a default within an organization —when everything is mandatory, then nothing is mandatory — but it is an approach that is valuable when used judiciously. Attorneys must be proficient at certain core tasks within their organization, whether it is formatting documents to meet required standards, entering time into a billing system, or competently and consistently completing certain assigned tasks. It’s also important that when training has been deemed “mandatory” by an organization, that requirement applies equally to everyone, regardless of their role or level within the firm.
Mandatory training — with penalties for non-compliance — also will help ensure that law firms and law departments are using their best efforts to keep their attorneys away from potential ethical issues.
Training is an important way for attorneys to develop, maintain, and demonstrate the technological competence increasingly demanded by ethical rules. Such training should be something lawyers embrace, not dread. Ensuring that training is matched to attorney interests and schedules is a good way to increase the odds that training will be successful.
One final training challenge is that senior attorneys (and attorneys who supervise legal teams) are often particularly busy and thus less likely than others to find time for training. However, given their oversight responsibilities, it may be critical for these attorneys to understand the tools and levels of effort required for their team members to complete tasks using different technology tools and solutions. Law firms and law departments should make sure that these professionals do not slip through the training cracks, even if it requires them to label key training as mandatory.