20 August 2001
Until law firms teach their lawyers about other jurisdictions and other systems of law they cannot be truly global. Lawyers cannot all become experts in the detail of the other jurisdictions they work in, but they can concentrate on the transactions that are at the heart of global legal practice. To do that they must capture transactional experience and distil practical solutions.
Law firms train people in applied law, in negotiating techniques, in the knowledge of investor preferences and markets and in the central clauses of mainstream documents. I have assumed the mantle of head of know-how and education because of my belief that transactional training is crucial to any international expansion.
In large multinational law firms, training has to be global. This requires some change in topics and a bias in focus, but above all, it sets a huge logistical problem. It may be necessary for lawyers from Hungary to attend workshops on acquisition finance in Frankfurt. The differences in jurisdiction are not important, the crucial common denominator that makes these workshops valuable is the concentration on transactional work. The workshops pool experience, simplify practice and distil know-how.
In large law firms there are logistical problems in reaching all lawyers to meet all their demands and to ensure uniformity of quality and practice. Everyone must have access to a know-how system. They must all be trained in drafting and negotiating to the highest standard, and it must be ensured that they have access to the best tools and articles in addition to all the primary sources for their practices.
Law firms must be committed to training in the same way that they are committed to know-how. It guides career development, enhances levels of practice and provides the core skills. Firms should focus on what the lawyers need to know when training so many lawyers within a global firm. Firms have to concentrate on building skills such as drafting, negotiating, project managing and crafting solutions. Lawyers must be familiar with commercial terminology and market practice and the training has to be effective in a minimum amount of time. Training is an equal exercise between the trainers and those being trained - to train the best only the best should train. All partners and senior associates should be involved in training your lawyers. Training promotes integration, bringing together lawyers from different backgrounds for practical training and team work.
It requires large dedicated teams to make the training work. It has to be well organised, supported by quality materials and the trainers have to be skilled presenters. Quality control and the link to know-how are important. External trainers need to have familiarity with a firm's standards. Firms are now judged and compared on their reputations for training. Training league tables, which are voted on by associates, are now published. On the whole the profession gives more than lip service to the importance of training and the development of its people. While this recognition is essential, the question is how, on a global scale, do we pool know-how of a firm's expertise in transactional work and disseminate it?
The legal profession is looking at e-learning, but frankly, some e-learning is Mickey Mouse - 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 will 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 a proper and efficient means of delivering it and delivery is useless without something worthwhile to deliver.
Philip Wood is a banking partner at Allen & Overy
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