Staff training and development is a necessary element of any industry, but its role within the legal profession is paramount.
Be it professional skills development, keeping up to date with changing law and legislation, new employee induction or the infamous health and safety awareness, training can require huge amounts of investment, both financially and in terms of time. It’s essential that employees are provided with the training necessary to perform their roles effectively and meet compliance requirements. But to ensure training is effective, and doesn’t cost the earth, what measures need to be in place to make sure you’re getting the most from your training spend? And what does the future of training in the legal profession hold in terms of learning methods and approaches?
A choice of two…
While instructor-led training (ILT) has traditionally been the tool of choice, the balance is shifting considerably towards eLearning. ILT is typically viewed as a costly training method, but it certainly has the potential to be an interactive and effective way to train employees. However, all too often, due to time constraints and limited budgets, ILT sessions can take the form of a PowerPoint presentation – not necessarily the best way to share and develop knowledge.
Lawyers are better able than most to assimilate information from a dry Word document, or PowerPoint presentation, but the delivery via ILT can often require complicated diary co-ordination, travel and subsistence costs, and taking experienced lawyers away from fee-generating work to lead and participate in the learning. And this is where HR departments are missing a trick: ILT may seem cost-effective, but on closer inspection it can cost much more in terms of time, financial input, outcome and administration.
In order to be valuable and worthwhile, training must be relevant to the needs of staff, engaging, accessible and available for reference at a later date. Consistency of the messaging and delivery quality is also important and can sometimes be compromised through ILT methods. eLearning has become an extremely popular alternative in recent years, and through new developments in eLearning technologies the associated cost and need to outsource the creation of learning material to third party companies has been removed.
Monitoring and managing staff compliance is a must for the legal sector. Having access to an audit trail detailing where employees are in their ongoing professional development and knowing who has completed and passed which piece of training can require a huge amount of administration. All this administration can be automated through using eLearning mounted on a Learning Management System.
eLearning is now a serious contender to rival traditional ILT. It can provide rapid deployment of training to delegates at multiple locations, ensure that delivery is consistent, and remove the adverse impact on fee-earners.
The future of training
There are several misconceptions surrounding eLearning’s ability to deliver effective training. Many of these misconceptions were once well founded. They centred on the length of time it took to develop content, the expense incurred when using outside eLearning production companies, and the difficulty in updating material when subject matter requires amendments. But with the latest technologies, law firms are no longer at the mercy of eLearning development companies, who can sometimes charge as much to update training material as they did to create it in the first place. eLearning used to be expensive to develop and cheap to deliver, whereas it has been assumed that ILT has cost less to develop but with a high delivery cost. Now the cost equation has shifted completely.
ILT has the potential to be great. It offers delegates a friendly and low-risk environment in which to learn and can also provide a fantastic opportunity for networking, which can act as a motivator for some. But unless firms have limitless training budgets, which is unlikely given the current economic climate, eLearning becomes an increasingly attractive alternative. With the cost of eLearning decreasing year on year, it’s no longer just the large firms that can use eLearning to acquire a competitive advantage. It’s becoming far more affordable and accessible to smaller firms too – providing greater flexibility, lower costs and, perhaps most crucially, a highly trained workforce.
Tim Buff is managing director of CM Group