Could a New Approach to Training Solve the ‘Learning Paradox’ in Law Firms?
Sarah Mian, head of digital learning at Access Legal, explains how a people-first strategy, with a focus on continuous learning, helps fee-earners feel valued and productive without late nights in the office.
Long working hours are the scourge of many highly-paid sectors – and legal has traditionally been one of the worst offenders.
Generous remuneration and bonuses are not enough to compensate burned-out employees who are feeling increasingly fed up with unrealistic expectations. And it seems some, at least, are prepared to take a stand; the recent Goldman Sachs rebellion might have happened in financial services but their concerns echo those of many working in the legal sector today.
The pandemic once again brought the question of work-life balance into sharp focus. Time saved on commuting and due to virtual court hearings and meetings might have helped some professionals recoup some of their working week but many, especially juniors, also reported feeling isolated, stressed and overworked. One study found that lawyers would now like to see a 10% reduction in working hours, while around a third would be prepared to reduce their compensation for a shorter week.
Working long hours is not a badge of honour but a sign that current processes aren’t fit for purpose. Transforming workplace cultures doesn’t happen overnight – yet as life begins to return to normal after Covid-19, there’s a golden opportunity to reshape practices for the better. Depending on the firm’s current policies, this could include a mix of flexible and remote working options, as well as using technology to streamline processes and support virtual communications with colleagues and clients.
One area that certainly shouldn’t be overlooked is learning and development (L&D). Equipping people with the right competencies enables them to confidently take on more challenging but rewarding cases, moving swiftly to a positive outcome for the client, without putting in excessive hours.
It’s somewhat ironic then that professionals feel unable to engage in training – which would help them work more effectively – because of heavy workloads. According to our research, almost three-quarters of legal professionals say they struggle to find time for essential training, with around half (48 per cent) admitting it’s difficult to fully complete training.
Yet knowledge gaps hamper efficiency, productivity and performance, not just for the individual but for the firm too.
One problem is that training has tended to be fragmented – in many cases, a mix of generic online compliance training with dedicated face-to-face courses to plug the gaps. While the latter might be effective, it also takes time out of a fee-earners’ day, so they have to catch up on their work later.
It’s no surprise that around three-quarters of firms we spoke to increased digital learning during the pandemic and that 67 per cent will continue to do so when restrictions ease.
Good digital training is efficient and fits into the flow of a fee-earner’s day, rather than feeling like an extra burden, or something they have to do at the weekend. Just as important is ensuring that the course content reflects the latest specific requirements of the legal sector, with interactive elements to engage learners and reinforce understanding.
As many as 96 per cent of the firms we polled prefer law-specific training, so look for a provider who can offer this. Courses in AML, anti-bribery, cyber-security and so on are far more likely to resonate with legal professionals if they are tailored around their role and responsibilities, and if they can be delivered online, they save time and increase productivity.
A good training programme reduces time-to-competency and unlocks countless other benefits – from improving staff wellbeing to minimising the risk of claims and complaints, fines and investigations.
In short, it demonstrates that firms are putting their people first by empowering them to hone their skills, derive more satisfaction from their work and get ahead without compromising their work-life balance. A good L&D programme is holistic and might encompass courses such as managing mental health in law firms, along with compliance training.
To find out more about Access Legal’s online training courses, which are all designed specifically for law firms, visit: www.theaccessgroup.com/digital-learning/elearning-courses/law-firm-courses.