Client training: the net solution

Joe Glavina and Damian Griffiths report on the changes wrought by the electronic information age on legal training for clients

Legal training for clients used to be basic, while the service offered by many legal advisers was also unsophisticated. But in the past 10-15 years, clients’ training expectations have grown. The pace of the commercial environment in which clients operate is faster, the legislative framework more complex and consumers are more sophisticated. As a result, clients need and expect much more in the way of training and education.

Training budgets are tighter than ever and management time is equally precious. Law firms face these same issues when providing training services to clients. It is not cost-effective to have lawyers conducting bespoke, out-of-office training sessions for every client, and it is not practical to offer one-on-one training for entire departments or teams.

Stalemate? Not necessarily. Many innovative firms have been exploring new models for clients: email bulletins, websites, CD-Roms and DVDs are an attempt to add value to training provision, but at a reduced cost for both parties.

But there is a limit to how much information can be put across in an email or on a webpage, while CD-Roms and DVDs are inflexible and impossible to keep up to date.

The glaring omission in this list is internet broadcasting. Addleshaw Goddard’s employment channel, launched in March 2004, is believed to be the first web-based news and legal training service run by a law firm. It allows subscribers to access the latest employment news over the internet, as well as providing specific training guidance and even bespoke advice, all delivered online in the form of television-style broadcasts. Delivered directly to subscribers’ PCs, the news programmes are aimed primarily at HR managers and in-house lawyers and are designed to keep them up to date with the latest legal changes.

Training programmes offer more comprehensive guidance on specific issues. They are aimed more at line managers and comprise a series of programmes, continually updated, covering all aspects of the management of employment relations, such as handling disciplinary hearings and stress in the workplace. The service is updated twice a week and subscribers are notified of changes via an email alert.
Annual subscriptions to the channel start at £2,500, but will vary according to the number of individual users per subscription. Bespoke programmes can also be produced in line with the specific requirements of subscribers.

Generally between five and 15 minutes’ long, the programmes are produced in-house at the firm’s dedicated in-house studio, which is equipped with professional broadcast-quality production equipment, and lawyers receive extensive training from BBC presenters’ consultants to ensure the programmes were presented as professionally as possible.

Once technical links have been established between provider and subscribers, programmes are delivered via streaming media to individual desktop PCs. A small window opens on the monitor and acts as a television screen. All programmes are stored on the website, so subscribers can access them whenever, and as often, as they like.
The idea for the employment channel arose out of a discussion between Addleshaws and an existing client. The firm was asked to repeat a training workshop for the benefit of those who had been unable to attend. It would have been a logistical nightmare for both parties to rerun the event, so the discussion turned to other options, one of which was online delivery. Fourteen months later, following a successful trial, the employment channel was launched.

The market reaction has been positive, which suggests that clients are more than ready to embrace online training if it is done well and meets their needs, and is not just used as an excuse to cut costs.

Joe Glavina is legal director and head of employment training and Damian Griffiths is director of IT, both at Addleshaw Goddard