Training as Next-Best Value

Training as Next-Best Value

April 08, 2019

I'm getting excited for a panel I'll be on this upcoming Thursday at NALP's upcoming Annual Education Conference: "It’s Not Either/Or: How In-Person and Digital Training Work Best Together."

Preparing with my awesome co-panelists has provided an opportunity to take a fresh look at thinking about the unfair advantages of in-person and digital training, respectively.

This has gotten me thinking anew about when and how we can realistically expect law firm attorneys to engage in formal training activities (I use "formal" because I believe training happens all the time, with and without training intention, and most commonly outside a classroom or online course).

I don't expect law firm attorneys to (on their own) choose to bill less in order to train more. That would be acting in direct opposition to the incentives of the system they inhabit. It's possible that a live training event, especially if mandatory or de facto mandatory (say, a partner suggests to an associate that they attend), might mean some attending lawyers have to make this trade-off of revenue-generating billables for training time.

(I realize I'm assuming a billable hour model, and I appreciate the critiques of that model, but it's still the dominant model, at least of BigLaw. I also realize some firms allow associates to bill for training, but that doesn't mean the firm would prefer that the associate engage in training instead of revenue-generating billables, and the associate likely feels that preference in the form of other subtle or overt incentives.)

So when should I expect law firm attorneys to use training resources? When they happen not to be busy with billables—they're waiting for an answer or a markup or, say, a meeting ended earlier than scheduled. In these pockets, an associate might decide to engage in the next most valuable use of their time, which for them might be skilling up. Now, it might be that a live session happens to coincide with, and fit inside, these moments. But it's infinitely more likely that an on-demand digital course will fit the uniquely busy schedules of each lawyer.

That's not to say that live training is never the right answer. It offers its own super powers—such as community building, perspective sharing (e.g., round table and room discussions), and realistic simulation and feedback with the messiness of real life that can be hard to capture in a digital simulation.

And, certainly, an associate often has the flexibility to work an hour later in the day to bill for the client work they otherwise would have billed during an hour-long in-person training session. Unfortunately, though, in real life, it's probably a bit too often that associates end up distracted with client work during these in-person sessions (I was once a BigLaw associate, and I can say: guilty).

We ought to be intentional about the special cost and value of bringing everyone together for the same live event so that we're deciding to spend that cost wisely to uniquely achieve value (in other words, do the things in person to achieve the goals that only (or most cheaply) can be achieved in person). When that value can be achieved through digital training at a lower cost, including opportunity cost (time that could have been billed), it should be done digitally.

In a professional environment where everyone is walking around with invisible billable rates floating above their heads, and where there are pressures and incentives to spend your time realizing that rate, time is an especially precious commodity. We ought to figure out how to put to the highest value use those pockets of time that already exist in each lawyer's day.

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Looking forward to continuing this and the broader conversation about blending digital and in-person training, with my co-panelists in San Diego this Thursday—and beyond that too!


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