It isn’t always easy to get senior leadership into corporate learning programs because of the difficulty carving time out of their busy schedules for training. For law firm Winston & Strawn LLP, which operates in dozens of practice areas ranging from litigation to lobbying, this presents a critical challenge for learning and development. Out of a global workforce of roughly 1,200, the organization has more than 900 attorneys, all of whom could be considered organizational leaders.
Complicating matters even further is the fact that the revenues generated from these legal services are time-based, said Kristin Quandt, who heads up technical learning programs for Winston & Strawn. “In the legal industry in particular, it’s very difficult,” she said. “All attorneys and paralegals are responsible for billing hours, and they all have to make X number of billing hours per year. Probably the biggest challenge that we’ve got is enticing them away from their billable hours into a training room, because the training is not billable. I think that’s the biggest challenge: helping them see that we can actually cut down on the clients’ billings by increasing their productivity.”
Quandt and her team have no formal initiatives in place to promote their programs to the learner populations, but they have benefited appreciably from informal word-of-mouth marketing that springs up spontaneously around the training offerings, she said. “For instance, we’ve recently put out a course in all of our offices called ‘Getting the Most Out of Your Technology Tools,’ which is just a series of tips and tricks for the most commonly used applications. It has really pulled the attorneys out of their offices. We’ll have one or two that go initially, and then they’ll call someone else and say, ‘Man, you wouldn’t believe what you don’t know.’”
Winston & Strawn’s various learning programs are not contained under a single umbrella, she explained. The firm’s IT department handles the technical training, but the professional development group covers continuing legal education. Thus, the values and techniques behind learning and development vary according to the objectives of the department in question. “Our overall goal is to ensure that all the attorneys, partners and staff have the ability to utilize the technology available to them as effectively and efficiently as they can,” she said. “In that, we have a number of programs that we’re developing—targeted programs for the attorneys in particular, because it tends to be fairly difficult to get the attorneys away from their desks to go to training.”
Quandt relies a great deal on classroom and coaching to deliver technology training, which mainly covers Microsoft Windows and Web applications. However, because of the subject matter and the geographical reach of the firm (in addition to five locations in the United States, Winston & Strawn has offices in London, Paris, Geneva and Moscow), she anticipates greater usage of technical learning modalities. “We’ve got some online demonstrations and online tutorials that we use. We’re in the process of growing and trying to better blend our different methodologies. We have a training specialist who’s working with us to develop e-learning. We’ve had a few things that have been canned. One of the things we’ve discovered is that the legal industry’s software needs are very different from your typical business’s technical software needs. The two deal with documents entirely differently.
“We’re putting together procedures manuals for the practice areas, which are technical,” she added. “What do you have to know and do to make this work? What are the documents you should know about? What are the terms and definitions you need to know in this practice area? We’re going to put that online so that anybody who wants to know more about a specific practice area will be able to go in and pull this information. Originally, the thinking was that this would just be a procedures manual for the secretaries, but we’ve discovered that the attorneys and paralegals think this is a pretty good idea too.”
As of now, there aren’t any official, consistent metrics around any of Winston & Strawn’s learning programs. There are some instances of anecdotal feedback, which Quandt characterized as generally positive, but she said there are plans to put formal measurements in place to determine the efficacy of the curricula. “The intention is to develop a fully blended approach that will include pre- and post-course assessments and more course evaluations that show if we’re actually teaching them what they need,” she said.
Decisions on what learning content to develop are made by a combination of recommendations from Winston & Strawn’s technology committee and identified needs of the organization’s workforce of attorney, paralegals, administrative professionals and managers. “Some of it is pre-planned,” Quandt said. “We also have a personal training initiative that’s about to start for the attorneys where we will sit down with them one-on-one, identify their personal training needs and be able to work with them individually over a period of time. Every attorney will have an assigned trainer. It’s going to be a big one, considering that we’ve got 400-plus attorneys here in the Chicago office and five trainers. It will take us a while to get through it all, but at least they’ll know that there’s somebody that they can call to get assistance when they want it. It’ll have that personal touch.”
–Brian Summerfield, firstname.lastname@example.org
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