Learning and development teams arguably become even more important for law firms during a downturn as lawyers’ skill sets have to become more transferable. Patrick McCann and Dorothea Bannerman-Bruce reveal 10 steps to achieve effectiveness.

HR & Training Special Report: Learning verve

When income levels in law firms threaten to drop, management teams scrutinise ;areas ;of ­discretionary spend, including learning and development (L&D). This article flags up the 10 best ways by which L&D teams can continue to operate effectively in an adverse financial climate.

1 – When the going gets tough, the tough get going on L&D
Engage with the management team early, agree where and how the firm’s strategic ambitions impact on L&D and identify what is critical to the business. Be robust here, not only in assessing what to lose, but also what to keep. A stampede now to cut, cut, cut could lead to significant skills gaps in your workforce in the future.

2 – P&L vs L&D
If the profit and loss (P&L) statement is under the microscope, then L&D will be too. Ensure that every L&D session you run has clear objectives, a robust learning process, implementable actions and measurable benefits. If you do not know what you are trying to achieve, how to achieve it or how to measure any change, do not do it. Pre-course and post-course quizzes are a simple way to show learning and help to focus the session leader’s mind. Everyone wants the quiz score after the course to be better than the one before, but this is not always a foregone conclusion.

3 – Fast forward
It is very easy to panic, but look forward to next year, and the year after, rather than just the next few months. Implement L&D initiatives that will help your firm after the downturn, as well as during. Having sensible discussions with business leaders about what the
mid-term future looks like will help you deliver effective sessions.

4-Cut a deal
Discuss your existing arrangements with suppliers. Look for supplier flexibility in terms of programme structures, design costs and fee rates. Good suppliers will wish to preserve their relationships rather than keeping an eye on the clock.

5-Out or in?
View this time as an opportunity for the members of your L&D team to increase their own design and delivery skills. Create and deliver your own training sessions and do not underestimate the positive impact your knowledge of the challenges, clients and people in your firm can have on your colleagues’ learning.

6 – From fee-earning lawyer to ;learning facilitator?
With utilisation rates down, encourage your lawyers to deliver more technical and business skills training. But beware, capacity does not always equal competence, so continue to be selective in your speaker choices. Expand your repertoire of learning formats so you can accommodate all lawyers with something to share – consider deal debriefs, case studies and discussion groups if you have not already done so. Reach out to your technical legal team to consider how to re-energise your sessions.

7 – The three ‘Rs’ – recession, reskill and redeploy
Your firm will be considering how to ensure you have the right lawyers in the right positions to meet new instructions. At Berwin Leighton Paisner we have taken a long-term approach to the downturn and have delivered intense training programmes to increase our lawyers’ restructuring and insolvency capabilities. We have also reassigned several lawyers into the restructuring and insolvency team. The skills that they learn in their new environments will be transferable back to their original teams when they return.

8 -To BD or not BD?
Business development (BD) training is an obvious answer to the current crisis, but not necessarily the best one. Take a more holistic approach to your clients to help them through these difficult times. Would a better response be to equip your clients to meet these new challenges by, for example, providing e-briefings on effecting changes to employment contracts, seminars on insolvency procedures and tips on how to challenge uneconomic contracts? Helping your clients will be the most effective BD you can do.

9 – Mobilise managers
What happens in the training room is just a small part of the process. Use your managers’ extra capacity and challenge them to really
get involved in their team members’ development. Engage with each manager before a session about what they expect their team member to learn and then follow up afterwards to secure their support in implementing the desired actions. This is where the firm will see real benefit, and it is worth investing the time here to make that happen.

10 – Stiff upper lip
Maintain enthusiasm, moti­vation and morale. Your colleagues will look to L&D to take a lead in keeping things upbeat. We all know a happy learner makes an effective one, so make it so. Enjoy the challenges the new environment creates for you, as you will ultimately be learning many new skills yourself.

Patrick McCann is head of training and Dorothea Bannerman-Bruce is a member of the training and development team at Berwin Leighton Paisner