It sounds, on the face of it, like a logistical nightmare. Hundreds of lawyers from dozens of practice groups spread across umpteen jurisdictions – and all needing training tailored to their age and experience.
The difficulties of integrating different cultures into a global law firm are immense. Yet, as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Hugh Crisp remarks, therein lies the very value of a good training programme. “We mix it up across practice areas and across countries,” says Crisp. “The whole point is that people can network.”
Indeed, for Freshfields, Clifford Chance and Linklaters & Alliance, which have all merged with substantial German practices in the last few years, creating a training system that is not overtly skewed towards London has been a major task. Given the manner in which the German education system works (lawyers do not even enter private practice until their late 20s at the latest), no international law firm worth its salt can rely on London-centric assumptions.
For this reason, as well as for the usual reason of competitive advantage, training – once merely a subset of human resources departments – is now assuming strategic importance. At Freshfields, Crisp is the managing partner responsible for people and service development and is on the six-strong central management team. At Allen & Overy, banking guru Philip Wood is now head of know-how and education. Meanwhile, at Clifford Chance and Linklaters, the training functions come under the remit of highly influential non-fee-earners Tony King and Geoff May.
On the technical side, as one would expect, partners have a high input into firms' training programmes. As Wood has remarked (The Lawyer, 20 August): “To train the best, only the best should train. All partners and senior associates should be involved in training our lawyers.”
“The days are gone when we used to sprinkle fairy dust over everybody and they had the skills automatically”
Hugh Crisp, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
All firms agree that training courses in international legal disciplines have to be entirely practical. “It's no good people standing up and saying, 'The law in our country is…',” says Crisp, citing two particular examples where technical training is married to a clear understanding of the market in which lawyers have to operate. “Private equity is a group which now has its training done internationally,” he says. “We took 50 to 60 junior lawyers at two years qualification and their equivalents [from other jurisdictions] and went to Berlin for two days, and had a venture capitalist actually come along and talk to us. And training in the international tax group is also run completely internationally, and partly taught offsite at the University of Leiden, near Amsterdam.”
On the non-legal side, training in the global firms also follows broadly similar patterns. For instance, Linklaters offers several skill-based courses at different points in assistant solicitors' careers. Linklaters associate director of training and development Ann Marie Cooper says: “We have something like 800 training days a year, including skills and management and technical training.”
At Freshfields, the setup is along the same lines. Around 25 newly-qualified solicitors at a time go on a two-day residential course, taught mainly by external consultants. At three years post-qualification, there is another course, again lasting two to three days, which focuses on project management, delegation skills and business skills. Between 15 and 20 lawyers attend. “There's no lecturing in this one,” says Crisp. “There are four or five teams with one laptop per team and they're receiving information in realtime, and they have to work together [on that project].”
Freshfields also provides another course for more senior associates, and then another one for partners. (“The days are gone when we used to sprinkle fairy dust over everybody and they had the skills automatically,” notes Crisp dryly.)
So what of e-learning? Wood's Opinion piece in The Lawyer (20 August) was trenchant. “Frankly, some e-learning is Mickey Mouse,” he wrote. “It needs to be used in a different way. We need to develop this in-house to produce a five-star product. I believe we'll want to concentrate on our transactions and the way we organise them consistently in all our offices. The message and the medium, the content and the electronic delivery, are interlocked. Content is useless without an efficient means of delivering it. Delivery is useless without something worthwhile to deliver.”
Professionals in training echo this caution, but are nevertheless enthusiastic at the potential of online education. “It's accessible and available 24 hours on screen anywhere in the world,” says Cooper at Linklaters. “But it's got to force people to think by being interactive.
“I don't believe it will ever replace face-to-face training. You miss out on things like sharing values and people learning together. But it has a highly important part to play – it works in combination. I think there should be a balance.”
|Germany – in at the deep end|
| Not starting work until you are 30 has its advantages. Spending your 20s as a student prolongs the joy of academia and irresponsibility, but German law students at major firms have some catching up to do when they arrive at their firms on the first day.
Seeing as most of the top firms will expect a doctorate and/or an LLM on top of the long period of study (five to six years on average), graduates arrive highly qualified, but lacking vocational skills. Law firms need to get them on the job as soon as possible.
The advantage of the German system is that first-year associates can be let loose independently on work almost immediately. “It depends on the area of law,” comments Markus Brans, director of administration at Shearman & Sterling in Düsseldorf. “When it comes to opinions and memos on corporate law, then the new associates are ready, but they have a lot to learn when it comes to a unified approach to M&A work – not only do they have to learn negotiating skills, but employment, tax, antitrust and administrative issues have to be in the backs of their minds.” In other fields, however, there is far more training to be done. Tax lawyers, says Brans, have to expect to be trained for up to two years before getting down to client work.
As would be expected in a civil law system, the emphasis on training rem-ains relatively academic. Shearmans associates meet every Friday (for the spookily-named 'Project Brain') where the latest legal judgments are discussed and where each associates takes it in turn to present a paper on legal developments (which is subsequently sent for publication in academic journals). Seminars both in and out of house on legal and business studies issues are also offered.
The initial task on the first day is a quite different one, admits Brans. “They have to undertake computer training,” he says. “Associates have to become familiar with the international knowledge management system and how our international networks work. That also includes acquiring presentational and cultural skills.”
He points out that nearly all of them cope well. The major problem is finding the time to fit in the training. In addition, he notes wryly, “occasionally you have to tell the lawyers that they're not yet ready. And after all that studying and a doctorate behind them, they do sometimes wonder when it's all going to be over.”
Aled Griffiths is the editor of German law magazine JuVe
|The Law Society's rules on continuing professional development|
| “'Continuing professional development' [CPD] means a course, lecture, seminar or other programme or method of study (whether requiring attendance or not) that is relevant to the needs and professional standards of solicitors and complies with guidance issued from time to time by the society,” (The Law Society Training Regulations 1990).
Fully-qualified solicitors and European lawyers are required to undertake 16 hours of study in their first CPD year and in each year thereafter. The required hours for newly-qualified solicitors/registered European lawyers vary for those admitted before 1 November (the beginning of the CPD year). In this instance, individuals must undertake one hour for each complete month worked from the date of admission/registration until 31 October (the end of the CPD year).
A minimum of 25 per cent of the CPD requirement can be undertaken through preparing, delivering and/or attending accredited courses. These include courses designed for distance learning, involving a dissertation and written examination, face-to-face coaching sessions with written aims and objectives and sessions presented by distance learning providers.
The requirements for solicitors and European lawyers who work part time are reduced pro rata. Part timers should commit themselves to take one hour of CPD a year for every two hours worked per week (an average of 20 hours per week worked is equal to 10 hours of CPD each year); and individuals who are working on average less than two hours a week may be excused the CPD requirement.