Fed up of the free training farrago…

I may seem a bit ranty on this, but frankly this is a subject long overdue for a good kicking.

Law firms offer free training to clients and contacts. The way this works is that typically clients rock up for a breakfast or an evening session for a croissant or a canapé and an hour or so of presentation on the subject of the moment followed by a bit of limp marketing/networking.

So much is wrong with this (and my apologies for shouting):

It isn’t training, it isn’t marketing and it isn’t free.

For participants, it isn’t designed to test you, challenge you, encourage you or motivate you to be different…It is mostly about sitting in a room, half listening (half Blackberrying) to someone talking to slides, with at least one cheek on the fence, about the latest cases or legislation. In effect it is an audio/visual article/newsletter and while it is hopefully interesting, it probably is not useful and it isn’t training you.

Neither is this properly networking. Mostly we hang in a corner hoping there might be one person we recognise who we then cling to through the whole session. The law firm will, on a given signal, send in a few of their new sniffer dog puppies (young partners) to try out their soft selling skills and everyone is frankly relieved when that bit is over and we can all go back to our day jobs…

Finally it isn’t free. There is obviously a cost to the law firm for sure. This cost will be met from earnings which in turn will come from their work for their clients…you have already paid for it in advance.

So why does it happen like this?

I think the law firms feel they have to offer this stuff because many clients bang on about it and clients are pre-occupied with harvesting free CPD; but it is a sham dressed up as something it clearly isn’t.

The Emperor is naked again. Worst of all it is a colossal waste of time, energy and is a travesty of professional development.

And yet a whole cottage industry exists in many firms to provide this so called added value. A whole industry built around offering sessions to clients a third of whom, typically, are “no-shows”…That is not turning up to events which they have confirmed they want to attend. Is there anything more pathetic than a table full of unclaimed name badges and a poor marketing assistant still trying to do the marketing smile?

We are all guilty of perpetuating this nonsense. We have got it badly wrong and we should therefore do something about it…but what? In my opinion, four things to start:

Law firms – just stop doing this…Partners don’t really want to do it and you are pretty average at leveraging marketing value from it…Frankly the content would be easier to appreciate if you popped it on a thoughtful email or put up a short video clip on your website.

In-house teams – just stop asking for it…Don’t kid yourselves this is training; don’t say you value it, then not turn up and finally why not actually think about the personal and professional development that you do want instead of treating it like a tick-box hygiene factor.

Can we please stop calling it “free” and get some transparency into the cost of law firm engagement. We are buying legal services first and foremost…if we want other things let’s discuss that seriously and in detail. Calling it “free” is like buying a Happy Meal for the gift; we are grown-ups now and this is not about the toys.

Can we all please treat personal and professional development as a serious, important and value enhancing process that requires thoughtfulness, energy and planning…

Okay, I shall now dismount the hobby-horse and have a nice calming cup of tea…

Paul Gilbert

Paul Gilbert is Chief Executive of LBC Wise Counsel the UK based specialist management and skills training consultancy for lawyers. www.lbcwisecounsel.com