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Lawyer Training - The Tipping Point has arrived

Sue PasfieldSeismic activity in the training world

There has been seismic activity in the legal technology training world brought about by the Suffolk/Flaherty Audit (the “Tech Audit”) initiated by D. Casey Flaherty, Corporate Counsel for Kia Motors.  Casey has been auditing the technology skills of his potential outside counsel's lawyers by evaluating what he considers the basic IT skills a lawyer should have for the practice of law.  He reports that none of the firms he has audited has yet passed. While this is not the only criteria on which he hires a law firm, he has been able to require discounts in fees and in some cases, he has not hired the firms.

 The prospect of the Audit has proved to be the tipping point in legal technology training.  Firms now realise that they have to improve their lawyers' IT skills, whether or not they have to undertake an Audit.

Casey has brought to light a situation which law firm trainers have struggled with for decades - that technology training has not been deemed critical for lawyers. How many times have we heard from trainers that “Lawyers don't come to training” and “No, we can't make it mandatory”.

Irrespective of any Tech Audit, it is in the interest of firms to make their lawyers more proficient with technology.  This has been clearly shown in recent surveys.  For instance, Neochange, the User Adoption specialists, point out that the average user productivity loss due to low user adoption of IT systems is 17%.  This is the same as giving everyone Friday off! 

In law firm terms, this is particularly important. What happened to that 17%? Was it billed to the client for “busy” time, or could it have been billed to the client as bona fide, billable time?

TrainingThe 2013 Neochange/Capensys Legal Industry Adoption Survey shows that firms with higher rates of technology adoption billed 25% more time than those with low adoption rates.  The survey clearly highlighted the direct correlation between firms with the highest rates of technology adoption and those with the highest percentage of time billed. This survey, sub-titled “The Grand Irony - Fear of Productivity Loss leads to Revenue Loss” shows how leading firms have comprehensive training strategies for their lawyers, whereas laggards forgo/forfeit training for fear of losing billable hours.

Another  a survey done by MicroSystems and ALM Legal Intelligence states that just 3% of law firms say they have been fired over sub-par documents, whereas 51% of their clients' legal departments  say they have fired outside counsel for sub-par documents and delivery. This calls for a reality check on the part of law firms.

The pressures around lawyer training

Any trainer working in a law firm has the same lament: Lawyers arrive in a firm and have their induction training. This is intensive, covering a lot of detail about a lot of applications, which a lawyer is unlikely to remember, need or be able to use immediately. The associate is then whisked off to start billing at the earliest opportunity. Trainers report that they rarely see an associate back in training after their induction. Subsequently, they lose track of what lawyers do and do not know. 

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When it comes to upgrades, the training normally concentrates on the status quo, i.e. showing them how to continue doing on Monday, what they were doing on Friday. There is often no time available either during the upgrade or afterwards to show users how to be more productive with the software, its new features and benefits.

Why the time is right for revamping lawyer training

What is galvanizing action in 2013? In the current climate, firms need the competitive edge. In a mature market, law firms need to be more competitive. Mergers and bankruptcies are a reality.

As the Keynote speaker at ILTA said:

 “The strategic inflection point is the time of transition of a company's competitive position that requires the company to change the current path and adapt to the new situation or risk declining profits.” 

“Strategic inflection points tend to arise following a long period of unbroken success when managers can't imagine anything but continued success and the organization is most vulnerable”

He cited examples such as Kodak cameras killed by Smartphone cameras, Borders Books killed by the Kindle, inferring that law firms need to be aware of disruptive technologies and influences and prepare accordingly. They need to demonstrate commitment to client service by doing whatever it takes to give the client better value, i.e. in this case, improve the technological competence of their associates and address the skills deficit.

The American Bar Association's own rules now state clearly that the standards for professional competency requiring attorneys to comprehend technology are rapidly rising. See this recent article: ABA Rules. Increasingly lawyers are required to do their own work and rely less on support staff.

The Win-Win Situation for IT Staff and their law firms

It is a win-win situation for law firms. Trainers and CIOs have long understood that by offering a more comprehensive and flexible training programme for lawyers, they accomplish many key goals:

It will enable their firms to increase flexibility, improve the staff: lawyer ratio; reduce the circulation of documents which have been incorrectly styled and manually formatted;  reduce the numbers of corrupt documents and late filings; reduce Inbox sizes and mitigate the risk of incorrectly filed documents and versioning problems etc.

Trainers and IT Departments always struggled to make the training happen because of competition from the billable hour. Now, however, the game has changed.

The impact of the Flaherty/Suffolk University Law School Technology Audit

The Audit is being released to Corporate Counsel who are entitled to use it to audit any of their potential outside counsel. The subsequent interest in up-skilling lawyers is warmly welcomed by IT staff who have long argued for higher levels of lawyer skills.

How can training be delivered effectively with minimum impact on the billable hour?

This tipping point has occurred at the same time as great improvements in training delivery methods which make it easier to deliver lawyer training.

Training no longer needs to be just hours in the classroom covering lists of functions and features. Blended Learning delivery methods such as webinars, coaching, on-line learning, context-sensitive just-in-time support, personal training streamlining tools and Learning Management Systems all facilitate absorption of skills in a more flexible way.

Now trainers are being encouraged to understand how lawyers work and provide training in context, which mirrors their workflows and makes the information more relevant and easier to put in practice. This Goal-Based Learning approach means that the time lawyers spend in training, via whatever delivery method, is better spent and the skills acquired can be instantly put to work for better client service. The more the training reflects how lawyers work, the more likely it is to earn CPD/CLE points, which is another win-win situation for the firm as it is another incentive for lawyers to take the training.

For more information on the Suffolk/Flaherty Audit and how to prepare for it, the 2013 Neochange/Capensys Legal Industry Adoption Survey and the Goal-Based Learning approach, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Sue Pasfield (Founder & Director at Capensys) has enjoyed a career in e-learning for over thirty years. She was one of the first people to work in interactive training, starting with Control Data's PLATO system, then ICL Fujitsu, then as a Director and founding member of TutorPro, where she spent eight years setting up the US and UK legal sectors. 

Joanne Humber (Head of Training, Phoenix Business Solutions) has been involved in the delivery of meaningful IT training programmes for law firms across the globe since 1995. She has built up a team of experienced legal IT trainers who understand the way that fee earning and support staff work, the issues they face and the skills they need to provide the level of service the modern law firm’s clients expect. Her team includes trainers with languages and an appreciation of the cultural differences which may affect the effectiveness of training delivery.
 

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