Why Isn’t L&D Happening in Law Firms?

I’ve recently attended an excellent workshop at Reed Smith on the O-shaped lawyer. In case you’re interested, this basically means a more rounded T-shaped lawyer. The T-shaped lawyer was one that had more than just technical excellence – they had breadth (see picture).

Anyway, I digress. Most of the biggest firms were represented and what really shocked me was the plea from many of the L&D specialists saying that they were struggling to get lawyers to attend their in-house training workshops.

One in-house trainer said: ‘If they give up a couple of hours, they’ll have to stay two hours later in the evening to get their chargeable hours in’.

Another said: ‘If they are not at their desk, they fear that a rival lawyer might be invited on to a prestigious matter’.

Several admitted that most partners didn’t see the value-added by associates attending training workshops.

It seems to be that this problem has got worse. Some big firms now have chargeable hour ‘targets’ of 2,000 hours. Ten-hour days and a proper use of holidays gets you a theoretical maximum of 2,250 hours at your desk. I accept that this gives little time for attending training workshops, business development, generating knowhow, supervising juniors, innovating better legal processes and all the other good things a professional firm needs.

This leads me to pose the following questions:

  • Is this law firm business model, with ever increasing chargeable hour targets, sustainable?
  • Is there anything L&D or HR functions can do differently to get more partners on side and appreciating the value from an investment in training?
  • If associates don’t attend training workshops, how else are they going to develop the skills that clients are increasingly demanding?

As ever, any thoughts on this challenge would be welcome.

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