Insight

Why More Law Firms Need Learning and Development

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Cynthia Halatyn

I worked in the legal industry for 10 years before joining Junction-18. I've been fortunate enough to work at some amazing law firms with incredibly talented staff.

That said, anyone who's worked in legal, knows that knowledge of best practices and filing systems are often passed down from one generation of paralegal to another like sacred oral histories.

Within the same firm, you'll find different ways of maintaining discovery files, different software being used for different cases, much of which is based on the personal preferences of the attorneys and their support staff.

Oftentimes, I would be given access to software with no training on how to use it. I got good at "figuring it out." But looking back, how much time and energy did I needlessly waste on experimentation?

I've witnessed cases come grinding to a screeching halt when a paralegal had to take an abrupt medical leave of absence. Others at the firm tried to help out, but it took a while to make heads or tails of the case because she had her own system of filing documents and tracking the status.

I've joined firms only to find an entire office packed to the gills with boxes from old case files, many over 10 years old, because the firm had no consistent policy or training on file retention. That's wasted square footage and overhead. Not to mention non-billable hours spent reviewing and disposing of them.

Sure, there are paralegal schools and certificate programs where you can ace the jargon, but much like law school, very rarely do they teach you the day to day skills on how to actually manage a case from start to finish.

And the stakes are nothing to sneeze at. Clients trust law firms with their most sensitive matters. No one who ever called a lawyer was having a good day. Litigation itself is expensive, there's often a lot of money on the line, sometimes intellectual property, sensitive medical records, not to mention reputation. So mistakes can directly impact the livelihoods of clients. We're all human, mistakes will happen, but what if we could reduce the frequency with good in-house training?

I've seen instances where heaps of sensitive documents were produced, then clawed back, because someone didn't have proper training on discovery software. Hell, as a brand new paralegal, I once sued the wrong entity and got a case removed to federal court, much to the ire of the partner in charge of the case. No one had warned me otherwise about the difference in a Ltd entity vs. an Inc. It was a lesson learned the hard way.

But, very few law firms are investing in training and development. Historically, lawyers and paralegals have relied on professional associations to produce webinars and conferences which are informative on changing areas of the law, but offer little in terms of efficiency of doing business.

I wish more firms would take a page from tech companies and how they maintain efficiency and workplace culture. When I had the chance to help a friend build a law firm from the ground up, I was excited about the possibility of implementing some of those strategies alongside best practice knowledge I had acquired over the years, to set efficient processes in place firm-wide, and to hire and train staff as we scaled up. We also did some small things that we hadn't seen other firms do, like ordering lunch for staff every day. Why? If you're billing $225 an hour and we buy you an $8 salad that you eat at your desk while working, we've just made $217. Great!

Learning resources at law firms don't have to be expensive. Much like an $8 salad, a robust induction training is going to save you money in the long term. Think of how many more hours your new staff can bill their first 3 months if they don't have to roam the halls asking questions about where to find this file or that password. Think of how much easier it will be to replace a staff member who resigns or triage a case that needs more support if everyone is on the same page about how your firm practices law. And don't tell me there isn't money for a coherent learning strategy. We somehow found the money to send the partners to a 3 day CLE in Palm Springs...

It's also one of the easiest industries to measure learning impact because everyone tracks their time.

That said, I think there's often a real fear of efficiency in law, especially if you're billing hourly. Instead of thinking about how many fewer hours can be billed to your clients if you're maximizing efficiency, think of all the other new cases you can be taking on at your firm, if your staff are well-trained and competent to handle more volume. About the time you can spend out developing new business and marketing if you can trust your team to manage cases day-to-day.

I'd like to see law become more efficient, and dare I say it, digitally savvy, not only for the sake of clients and to reduce the monotonous work that comes with cases, but because technology is chasing every industry; this one is no exception. In order to survive, it's time to dump the tasks that computers can do, get efficient at the "no-brainer" tasks and continue to hone the skills and finesse that AI can't do well.

If you'd like to chat more about the L&D strategy at your law firm, contact me at cynthia.halatyn@junction-18.com.