Training Strategies in Transit

SRAThe new SRA rules on CPD come into force on 1 November 2016. So it’s time to review your strategy for delivering training, if you haven’t already done so!

Our work with more than 60 firms in the last few years shows that firms are adopting radically different strategies for training, as follows:

Level 1: Getting Off the Ground

Most of the smaller law firms are at this stage, starting with technical legal training. There may be some, limited skills training, such as presentation skills programmes, carried out on an ad-hoc basis, often by ‘volume’ providers of training with ‘off the shelf’ designs.

Partners may be uncertain that any more training is needed – after all, they got to where they are today without it! Some partners may introduce their own training contacts and even clients as potential providers of training. There probably isn’t a specialist training manager and there probably hasn’t been a rigorous analysis of training needs.

Level 2:  Low Level Flying – Comprehensive Suites of Training Programmes

Many of the larger firms are in this category and such firms typically have established competency frameworks, performance/development reviews and clear guidelines on career progression. There is at least one senior training specialist in the firm, possibly within the HR function, though there is trend towards having directors of training and a separate training department. The separate departments tend to employ more staff, some of whom may deliver programmes.

Analysis of training needs is often done but there may not be a rigorous assessment of the overall business strategy for the firm and much attempt to link training to business strategy. There is buy-in from most of the partners, but not all, and there will be partners sniping from the side at the cost or relevance of some of the programmes.

Level 3: Stratosphere – Integrated Learning

There are only a handful of firms attempting to move to this level. Most of them have a large number of offices and practical difficulties getting the Level 2 approach to work. They tend to see suites of training programmes as the equivalent of offering a ‘sheep dip’ approach.

Instead, these firms want to tailor training strategies and delivery more closely to specific practice group or office needs. Indeed the word ‘training’ will have been largely replaced by the words ‘learning’ and ‘development’. They are using technology (eg intranets, e-learning and well-designed workshops using Video Conferencing) and on-the-job or executive coaching to supplement or replace training courses.

In these firms, there tends to be learning and development ‘account managers’ assisting the practice groups evaluate their development needs. Induction programmes are typically run locally so that participants are more aware of the business plans of their particular practice groups.

There is also an increasing trend to using 360 degree feedback and Development Centres as a basis of making training more ‘participant-centric’ and more ‘pull’ than ‘push’ in style. Action learning sets are being encouraged so that groups continue to meet up and support each other in their ongoing development. Participants are more strongly encouraged to have pre-programme and post-programme discussions with their ‘mentor’ to ensure there is a relevant and practical focus for the development.

Programmes are being assessed on more stringent criteria, such as return on investment and tangible effects on margin, growth, retention etc.

Flying Higher – Making the Transitions

For those firms considering flyer higher, there are challenges in making the transitions.  The following are suggestions for professionalising your training offering.

1. The need for buy-in

Firms will need buy-in from the partners and those for whom the training is designed. The cost of moving from Level 1 to Level 2 will raise some eyebrows with some partners unless the benefits of the programmes (as well as the risks of not running them!) are clearly expressed. Partners may find the transition from Level 2 to Level 3 easier. There is an investment needed in Learning & Development account managers and systems support, but the ongoing cost of running programmes may indeed be reduced.

To get partner buy-in for either transition, some firms find it useful to run ‘pilot’ programmes with practice groups that are ready to try something different. If word catches on that the experiment works, this helps generate some momentum for change.

2. Appropriate resources 

Level 2 training strategies can be delivered with small in-house training teams, but firms will need a squad of external training providers. The challenge for the internal team is to be clear about the learning outcomes they need from their providers and to be able to monitor the effectiveness of the training verses the objectives and the business need. They need to be involved with the external faculty in the initial phases of set up and design to ensure the messages are in line with expectations of the business.

The in-house function also needs to ensure that messages are consistent between the different providers. Some firms provide ‘faculty’ meetings to brief external providers on firm developments and look at specific issues (eg measuring the effectiveness of training interventions).

For the Level 3 approach to be effective, firms need a larger in-house team with some members of the team much closer to the business units so that appropriately-tailored programmes can be put together.

3. Processes to support the strategy

These are particularly important for Level 2 firms who need:

  • good processes for advertising programmes
  • efficient ways of diagnosing training needs
  • assessing external providers and
  • collecting assessments on the effectiveness of the training.

4. Systems to support the strategy

These are important for firms up in the stratosphere, who are finding ways of using technology to help develop knowledge and skills. For example, one firm has replaced its induction course by an on-line system in which new joiners are given tasks to go and find out information (eg through arranging meetings or interviews with key staff).

In summary, it is clear there are substantial challenges in making these transitions from Level 1 to Level 2 and even bigger issues moving from Level 2 to Level 3. The role of the Training (or Learning & Development) Departments is very different and firms will need to consider buy-in, resources, processes and systems for the transition to be successful. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is getting partner buy-in!

For more on how trainers should deal with Prisoners, Protesters and Passengers see –



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