Guest Post by Practice Support Lawyer Kathleen Hogan at Cassels Brock & Blackwell
One of the most successful initiatives undertaken in our Practice Support department at Cassels Brock (composed of John Gillies and me) has been the one-on-one training sessions we offer directly to lawyers. This post will describe this ongoing initiative, and the ensuing “wins” and “fails.”
Simply teaching tips is only part of our success. We also learn about individual lawyers and their practices, improve our profile across the firm, and create goodwill by helping resolve issues we would never otherwise have heard of.
Group training, onboarding, and other training techniques have some success, but are not tailored to an individual lawyer. This is one of the keys to our success – we can speak individually to lawyers and learn from them while teaching. We don’t teach what they don’t want to know or don’t care about, and skip over what they already know. We ensure that we’re teaching useful tips efficiently on a lawyer-centric basis.
We’ve done three separate one-on-one initiatives. The first focused on e-mail management, Outlook tips, and related time-management tips.
WIN: Many of the individual tips were hugely successful for the lawyers. They learned several easy functions in Outlook, thus improving leverage. We, in turn, learned a lot about individual practices we used in refining our e-mail filing policies.
FAIL: We learned not to try to cram ten or more tips, plus a short lecture on time-management, into one session.
The second round was aimed at adoption of our enterprise search engine. We had a launch party to create interest and awareness and did overviews during group training sessions. Our search rate metrics, however, went up as we did one-on-one training (and have stayed up!).
WIN: As you leave, repeat your top tip. Mine was, “If you remember nothing else about this training, remember to put phrases in quotes when you search.”
FAIL: Some lawyers simply refused training, saying they relied on their assistants to find everything for them. I suggest brainstorming potential refusals and preparing script with scenarios (“What if you’re working late and your assistant isn’t here?”).
The third initiative was teaching a smorgasbord of new or improved functionalities that were available across the firm resulting from a major upgrade of the firm’s technology infrastructure, completed in 2010. We chose to highlight the most important functions and tools (in other words, those we thought were easy to learn and/or increased efficiency the most).
WIN: Communicating the importance of the upgrade and demonstrating the stability and usability of the new platform. We made sure to praise IT’s work, so lawyers would understand that department’s value. In turn, IT appreciated our support.
POSSIBLE FAIL: We had to be careful to avoid training fatigue. Lawyers had already been required to attend training on the new system, and we didn’t want to annoy them with more training on anything they’d seen before.
From these experiences, I can share the following tips:
- Prepare an attractive “leave-behind” document. Keep it short and simple, and provide screen shots. As you speak with a lawyer, point to the relevant sections on this document.
- Prepare a way to track who you’ve seen. You’d think you remember, but after a dozen training sessions, it becomes difficult!
- Start by simply dropping by. Have a friendly script that makes refusing you difficult. “Hi, Paul. Let’s take a quick five minutes to show you how to use the new search tool,” not “Do you have five minutes for some training?” If they refuse, have your Blackberry at the ready, pick a date, and send an Outlook invite immediately.
- Lawyers will often jump up and offer their seat to a trainer. To this, I always say “Oh no, you’re going to do the work!” Stand beside their chair. Have a pen with you so it’s easier to point out a detail onscreen, rather than looming into their personal space. They will retain more by doing it themselves.
- Start off with a quick explanation of the tool or item to be taught, and ask them what they do now. “This search tool is a fast and accurate way to search for all our client-matter documents. What do you do now to find something you need?”
- This approach both “sells” the tool and elicits excellent lawyer-centric information – terrific KM data. As we get to understand how each lawyers works, and over time, we knit that information together and leverage it in other projects.
- Show the right things. Make a list of the top items to train. What are the three (five? ten?) things you think everyone should know? Teach these around the firm before moving on to new items.
- Before you leave, ask: “Is there anything I can help you with? Is there anything not working on your computer?” Get answers to their questions, and get IT to fix whatever is not working, even if it has nothing to do with what you trained on, and even though it’s not your job. Facilitating resolutions to problems will engender a generous amount of good will.
In case you’re wondering, our most popular tip (as measured in expressions of surprise and delight), is the Outlook functionality of dragging an e-mail into Calendar or Tasks to turn it into an appointment or a task. Many of the most tech-savvy lawyers don’t know this one, and everyone loves it!