Hi-tech trainers

About two years ago, we decided to completely change the computer hardware, operating systems and applications across our firm. Basic technology we now take for granted, such as the mouse, was unfamiliar to many staff and the training team was confronted with the huge task of training 2,000 people worldwide in 15 months. Although there were some professional trainers, most of the team was seconded from within the firm, and included secretaries and computer support staff.

The logistics of the training project were incredibly complicated. The training had to tie in with the systems roll-outs and the movement of staff around the world or those on secondment to clients. Given these constraints, traditional classroom-based training was the only practical approach, and it was supported by on-line help and the provision of manuals.

However, because much of the learning takes place after the training event, and because people prefer to quiz someone they know when faced with a problem, teams of local experts were set up in the legal groups and practice-support departments. Formed mostly of secretaries, these teams played a key role in helping to bed down the technology.

However, a training programme does not end when the technology is in place – evaluation and follow-up are critical. We are now conducting a major review of how the technology is being used and where further training is needed. This considers the systems, procedures, management and people involved in the use of technology.

As a result of the review, we are exploring options other than a central training team to run more classroom-style training. For example we are training in a series of short, hour-long workshops for secretaries and fee earners, delivered locally and tailored to represent reality as far as possible.

Rather than looking at the features of IT applications, the workshops focus on the role of the secretary or fee earner in the life of a document. Combined with short training sessions, this approach makes the information easier to retain and apply and has won extremely positive feedback from partners, who appreciate the minimal disruption to work. Secretaries have also said they like the informal atmosphere of the workshops.

But while we prefer short modular training, there will always be a place for a more formal approach in technology training. However, it is now bespoke. Before attending, participants submit examples of the type of document or model they hope to use or produce as a result of attending. This allows us to identify the focus for sessions by the priorities of those attending and how best to evaluate the effectiveness of the training at a later stage.

As people have become more confident using the systems, demand for training on other applications has soared; rather than slowing down after the systems roll-out and review, the level of technology training is increasing rapidly.

One issue that must be tackled is that of who is the best teacher. The most effective training models exist in organisations where departments handle their own training and development, with senior management linking training to the achievement of business goals. In these organisations, training is everyone's responsibility and it is a model to which we can all aspire.

Training at this firm is not the duty of a central training team and we are piloting the use of secretaries, who are often on the front line of technology use, as trainers within a trainee legal secretary programme. The volunteers have received instructor skills training and are now in the process of acquiring the technical knowledge and confidence to pass it on.

Although it is still early days, the secretarial trainers are enthusiastic and feedback from those responsible for developing them has been positive. Secretaries can also become involved in the delivery of training through the workshops.

By allowing each department to support the delivery of its training we will be able to put products and messages across to the business more quickly. When a new business application is developed, a core group of secretaries could be trained who could cascade the skills or knowledge on to colleagues.

Where does this leave the central trainer? The training team will always analyse the bulk of the training needs and design and evaluate courses. And it will also retain some responsibility for delivery. But it now has the key role of coaching and developing the training volunteers around the firm.