How About Using the Suzuki Method for Training Lawyers in Leadership Skills?

A violin

Can the Suzuki Method be used to train lawyers in leadership?

Many of us will have heard of the Suzuki Method in the context of training young violinists. It revolutionised teaching techniques in music. The interesting question is whether there is anything relevant in this approach for training lawyers to be better communicators or better at selling?

The Suzuki Method was conceived in the mid-20th century by Shinichi Suzuki, a Japanese violinist. He was a skilled violinist but struggled to learn the German language. He noticed that young children pick up their native language quickly, even difficult dialects.

He reasoned that if children have the skill to acquire their mother tongue, then they have the necessary ability to become proficient at playing a musical instrument. He pioneered the idea that pre-school age children could learn to play the violin well if the learning steps were small enough and if the instrument was scaled down to fit their body.

The Suzuki Difference

What are the differences between a Suzuki trainer and a ‘normal’ trainer? I have benefitted from having a singing teacher well versed in the Suzuki method, so here are some key points:

  1. Suzuki trainers focus on one aspect of technique at a time, for example, always looking for perfect posture and positioning. You might hear the trainer say: ‘Your mission is to keep your thumb up where everyone can see how great it is. Okay?’
  2. The trainer will have the eye of a hawk and point out if anything needs correcting.
  3. Virtually every utterance is positive – trainers never sound judgemental. This creates what psychologists call a growth mindset.
  4. Suzuki trainers model excellence, both to help teach but also to inspire.
  5. A greater focus on keeping students motivated and focused during a lesson. The attitude is ‘If it isn’t fun – who’d want to do it?’The learning process includes group learning so people can learn from each other
  6. Life outside the lesson is more important than life inside the classroom. Most of the learning needed to take place outside the classroom so this experience had to be pleasurable. Suzuki trainers put emphasis on teaching parents in how to make practice pleasurable, thereby creating the Suzuki Triangle of Teacher – Pupil – Parent.

Implications for Training Lawyers

So, what relevance has this got to training lawyers in new skills? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Why not start legal skills training with younger groups? Might it be not optimal to start training partners in, say, BD skills? What about starting such training much earlier, say with the trainees – might they not find it easier to pick up the techniques, particularly before they pick up any bad habits they’ll have to unlearn?
  2. Keep numbers small for skills training – to help keep costs down, I’m currently working with breakout groups of 6 people maximum. Is this too many to deliver the quality one-on-one attention that such training might need?
  3. Use video to capture any small points, particularly on body language. Though most people have an aversion to seeing themselves on screen, they invariably learn lots with a good tutor helping them, particularly if the feedback is non-judgemental.
  4. Create the right environment for training– are we doing enough to ensure training programmes are:
    1.  supportive,
    2. providing lots of positive feedback,
    3. providing lots of opportunities to practise,
    4. linking training to life on-the-job?
  5. Make training fun! We need to remember that it’s not easy being in the learning zone. There should be a lightness of touch on training programmes to help diffuse any discomforts and tensions. It’s not just kids that like fun.
  6. Use ‘small steps’ – not asking for the moon. More time on creating appropriate action plans which will provide a positive momentum. This is often rushed at the end of a workshop.
  7. The group activities believed to be important to Suzuki can be created by providing action learning groups, perhaps meeting one lunchtime a month to talk to colleagues about what’s going well etc
  8. Spending more time training the partners to be supportive of the learning process on-the-job. This would include:
    1. Helping to set learning objectives for participants attending training programmes
    2. Picking up on any learning and helping provide opportunities to apply the learning
    3. Providing ongoing feedback and motivation

This would help create a potentially virtuous triangle of Trainer – Associate – Partner.

This last suggestion would probably have the biggest influence on learning and performance in most law firms.

For more information about The Suzuki Method see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuki_method

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