Beyond Traditional Learning: How Goodwin is Preparing Associates for the GenAI Era

Beyond Traditional Learning: How Goodwin is Preparing Associates for the GenAI Era

February 22, 2024

By: Katie Walter

Realistic scenarios, interactive live trainings, and real-time feedback on practice exercises help accelerate new associate development 

Goodwin's 2023 new associates were in for a treat when they started their roles. They participated in an eight-week intensive training program that seamlessly blended self-paced learning; live, experiential training sessions; and interactive exercises with real-time feedback to help them prepare for client work faster and more effectively.

The firm's Learning + Professional Development (L+PD) team, in collaboration with Hotshot and Praktio, developed interactive training programs for both transactional and litigation practices. The curriculum includes the intrigue and complexity of model clients, cases, and matters, mentoring from seasoned attorneys, and training resources and techniques that are effective for adult learners.

Caitlin Vaughn, Managing Director of Learning and Professional Development at Goodwin, says the program relies on a "three-legged stool" of training: asynchronous learning via videos from Hotshot, live learning sessions led by senior attorneys in the firm, and interactive practice exercises from Praktio (as well as home-grown "homework") that provide real-time feedback on simulated work product.

She says the aim is to create a low-stakes learning environment where new attorneys can focus on building skills rather than worrying about making mistakes on live client matters.

Shifting approach to new associate training

"We can't take a lecture-based approach to training anymore," Vaughn says. "It just doesn't work. In fact, it never really worked." The remote work environment of the pandemic showed that people can and do learn on their own time or in different spaces, but "talking head" style training just isn't very effective. Vaughn and her team looked to best practices in adult learning to adapt their training approach over the past few years. This year's new associate intensive training programs build on their experimentation.

The nature of new associate work is also changing. Artificial intelligence is streamlining tasks like due diligence and document review. "Instead of having new associates doing the first round of review manually, in the future, we envision having them do quality control for the technology's review," Vaughn says. "That takes a different skillset and judgment level. You must be able to tell if the tech did it right. Is this document producible or not? Which of these many contracts are the same and which are substantively different?"

The L+PD team at Goodwin had a new remit:

"We have to think about how we disseminate judgment and discernment without the manual slog that people learned through in the past," Vaughn says.

"If they weren’t going to learn by doing a task repeatedly and making lots of mistakes, we needed a new approach. We designed a program that lets them learn from the highest quality work instead of volume, and by getting useful feedback that supports their learning, without waiting on a partner to review work product."


Fitness Genie logo

BLD Practice Lab

Vaughn and her team launched the eight-week Business Law Department (BLD) Practice Lab to new associates in October 2023. It consists of eight transactions based on a hypothetical client, complete with a hypothetical founder and documents and inside joke "Easter eggs." The client company is a fitness app called FitnessGenie. The new associates go through simulated transactions on behalf of the company.

The modules include:

  • Entity formation
  • Early-stage venture financing
  • Growth equity financing
  • A strategic M&A deal
  • A joint venture
  • A licensing deal
  • A leveraged buyout
  • Cashing out to start an investment fund

They get assignments with these transactions that are common for junior and midlevel associates. This includes drafting, diligence, and emailing with a client. "We want to teach them the judgment and business acumen they'll need in those situations," Vaughn says.

Each module has three main components - the three legs of the PD stool:

Prework from Hotshot

The L+PD team assigns a Hotshot video as prework. "We like these because they are short and match the ability of the adult learner to absorb information," Vaughn says. Using the videos allows the presenter in the live session to focus on scenarios rather than level setting with instruction. Plus, participants can get Hotshot certified; the gamification motivates them to participate. In addition, the associates can go back to the Hotshot videos to learn on demand when faced with real assignments after the program ends.

Instructor-led live sessions

In the live session, facilitators can assume participants have a foundational understanding of the concepts for that matter type. That frees them to dig into the transaction with hypothetical matters related to Fitness Genie. They can also explain the concepts in the context of the "Goodwin way" of doing things, offer up their own war stories, and explore the nuances of certain judgment calls. Other associates serve as mentors to the participants, so they can work through the scenarios in groups. The firm also used Hotshot's training guides to give partners hypotheticals and discussion questions to work through with associates to help cut down on prep time for the live sessions.

Exercises and real-time feedback from Praktio

After the live session, participants have time to reinforce and practice the skills they learned. The L+PD team assigns both deal-specific deliverables and the related lesson from Praktio, an interactive training platform that teaches professional skills through realistic, on-demand exercises. The system provides real-time feedback, so learners can practice doing the work, making as many mistakes as they need to learn, in a safe space. This also allows the firm to scale this level of feedback without overtaxing partners. Vaughn says that using the Praktio lessons in this way positively reinforces the good and shows people where they need to improve.

Preparing litigation associates to practice

The Goodwin L+PD team has taken this same approach with litigation associates. There is a hypothetical shoe company, Vaughnster. (This is one of the Easter eggs: the fake company is named after Vaughn and modeled after Rothys, a brand she adores.) Associates experience the lifecycle of a trade secrets case, including:

  • Complaints and answers
  • Internal investigations
  • Deposition
  • Pretrial motions
  • Trial
  • Post-trial motions

The format includes pre-work from Hotshot and live sessions that keep learners engaged, even if they aren't all in the same room. Local facilitators and mentors help with the live training, while Praktio courses provide subsequent opportunities to practice and receive feedback.

Having a common client throughout the training is helpful for context and elevating the learning. "When the pieces weave together in a story it helps them retain the lessons because they 'know the client' now," Vaughn says. "They see how things work from phase to phase in the litigation, building on each other. The more context they have, the easier it is to see how each piece fits in."

Creating a virtual world piece by piece

Both the transactional and litigation sessions rely on an alternate reality of documents and characters. In some cases the L+PD team could convert real work product to match the circumstances of FitnessGenie or Vaughnster. Other documents had to be created from scratch.

The Goodwin L+PD team hasn’t created all these scenarios, characters, discovery materials, and due diligence overnight. The team started with one scenario for a standalone training early in the pandemic. Participants liked it and learned from it, so the team created more. Turning those individual lessons into an integrated training was much less of a lift than if they had tried to create the scenarios all at once.

Tips for other PD teams

Vaughn's advice for PD teams wanting to move in this direction? "Start small, with one or two matters. Build the lessons and the world around those and see what feedback you get. Then, you can keep building."

Using outside resources like Hotshot and Praktio enabled Goodwin to build the program faster. The internal team focused on the specific matters and the Goodwin approach, relying on Hotshot and Praktio for teaching and reinforcing foundational skills.

She also suggests finding allies to help build the scenarios and get support for shifting your training approach. These allies are quite likely relatively junior or early equity partners who still work with new associates. They see where first years struggle, and they want to help them learn more effectively.

Teaching a proactive mindset to future firm owners

Goodwin's integrated training programs started as a response to changes in technology and remote work. Vaughn has come to see them as a tool to elevate the mindset of associates. As they spend less time slogging through documents, many will have more time to think about the issues that keep their managing partners up at night.

"We're hoping to develop an ownership mindset in our associates earlier and more consistently," she says. "As the legal industry evolves, they will help us stay ahead and solve problems for our clients proactively."

The Goodwin team is working to provide excellent training in core legal skills—training that reflects the way adults learn, with short videos and lots of interactive work and feedback—to give the associates what they need now and to make them resilient against change. Along the way, associates will develop a broader sense of the matters and issues their clients face and be better able to help those clients while helping position the firm to grow. 


Hotshot and Praktio can work with your firm to implement many of the ideas above. They can also brainstorm other ways to engage and educate your associates. Contact Hotshot and Praktio to learn more.

Praktio provides interactive, practice-based training that teaches practical skills to junior associates and other legal professionals. We can help you develop the best e-learning strategy to complement and enhance your existing training program. Schedule some time with us to learn more.