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special to the national law journal Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York office of Jones Day. He writes often on law firm management and career development. For many lawyers, the mention of the words “continuing legal education” conjures up one of two images, neither of which is particularly positive. One common image is a “boondoggle” trip to some ski or surf venue, where a vacation may be justified as a business deduction. The other is a hotel ballroom somewhere full of lawyers, listening to a speaker drone on, while newspapers rustle and crossword puzzles are filled in. In each case, little learning may be accomplished, and the profession is not particularly well-served. But are those the only real possibilities for a CLE program? Must CLE be a rip-off or be irrelevant and a bore? For many law firms, the answer is no, and the solution to making CLE economical and effective is to bring large parts of CLE training in-house. This article outlines some of the essential advantages, and the challenges, of constructing an effective in-house training program, and offers some practical suggestions for how to construct an in-house training program. The programs adopted at individual firms, of course, will require tailoring to individual needs and circumstances. Home-court advantages There are many choices available for continuing legal education. Many bar associations, law schools, private education institutes and other groups offer training programs. The form of programs, moreover, vary widely, from live lectures and demonstrations, to video programs and (increasingly) to Web-based individual programs that can be viewed at an individual computer screen. What is common about these programs, however, is that they push information at participants. Like a movie or television program, the producers of the program determine the content. If a participant has a particular need for a particular kind of information or training, he or she must search for an appropriate program. If none exists, or none is conveniently available, he or she must do without, or accept a program that is merely the best under the circumstances. In-house training, by contrast, offers several advantages. To begin with, training can be tailored to specific, identified needs. The training needs of lawyers in a law firm are often obvious to the managers and senior lawyers in the firm. The fundamental skills required to be successful in the firm’s practice areas, for example, will often be quite well known. The need for understanding of new developments in the law, law-related technology and client initiatives, moreover, will become apparent to anyone who is paying attention to training needs. In an in-house setting, appropriate training resources can be applied. Senior lawyers in a law firm are ready sources of training expertise, designed to meet the specific needs of lawyers in the firm. In essence, the lawyers who complain “our junior lawyers don’t seem to know enough about X, Y or Z” are the same lawyers who should have the skills and experience to provide effective training in the required areas. Moreover, many less senior (but still experienced and capable) lawyers may be eager to share their knowledge with the junior lawyers who will make up the teams of subordinates who will get their work done. Adaptation to feedback may be enhanced by in-house programs, which can be very flexible. The need for a training program on a subject of immediate importance can often be identified quickly and a program organized in relatively short order. A program that, in practice, turns out to be of relatively limited value, or that is not well-received and attended, moreover, may be omitted or presented on an infrequent basis. It’s not always easy In-house training does not just happen. It requires real dedication and hard work by those who plan and coordinate training programs. Developing and implementing such programs may present several challenges: The range of knowledge in the lawyer population may be broad. Law firms (especially large firms) often have a very wide range of lawyers. Many junior lawyers, just starting in the profession, need training in the most fundamental aspects of practical lawyering. Mid-level and senior-level lawyers, by contrast, will not attend and will get little value out of introductory courses that show them little more than what they already know. Some method of providing stepwise, graduated programs appropriate to different levels must be developed. Attendance patterns may vary greatly. Busy lawyers in a law firm may often find it difficult to spare significant amounts of time for training. Even conscientious, well-meaning lawyers, with every intention of taking advantage of programs, may find themselves overwhelmed with the crush of work on a particular project. As a result, the firm must make special efforts to support and encourage training programs-offering such programs at convenient times and stressing that lawyers should be freed, whenever possible, to attend such programs. No matter the amount of support, however, any successful training program must address the fact that attendance problems will occur for some people. Thus, often, programs must be offered on more than one occasion, and some programs must be repeated periodically, year to year. Bad programs are inevitable. No matter the amount of preparation, some training programs will fail. They will not meet the real needs of lawyers in the firm, they will be targeted to the wrong audience, they will present some useful material-but in a boring or disorganized manner-or they will fail in some other way. Whatever the cause, the organizers of training programs must be prepared to identify, and to modify or eliminate, programs that do not work. Some system of meaningful feedback and assessment is key. An attitude of “we put this program on last year, so we must do it again this year” must be avoided. Signs of success In light of the opportunities and challenges for in-house training, certain key elements for success readily appear. Again, this list is necessarily incomplete and requires adaptation to the circumstances of the individual firm. Presence of all these elements is not a guarantee of success. In the end, it is the dedication and the insight of those who plan and coordinate training that will determine the success of a firm’s training. First, someone must take responsibility for training. The first priority of most lawyers, in most law firms, is not training. Thus, unless the firm assigns responsibility for training to one or more lawyers (and, in many firms, one or more full-time training administrators), attention to the issue may be inadequate. Often, it is best to share the responsibility by forming a training committee. The members of the training committee will become familiar with the training needs and teaching capabilities of the firm’s lawyers. The committee, moreover, will develop perspectives on training issues, ensuring that training programs have long-term value and sustainability, rather than serving some petty personal whims of some lawyers in the firm, or following some trendy, but ungrounded, training technique. A mix of programs is often best. There is no one-size-fits-all training program for lawyers. Each lawyer represents a unique combination of skills and experience, practice focus and training needs and interests. A training program cannot teach only the most junior lawyers, or the litigators, or the lawyers with interest in high-technology issues. A variety of programs must be offered, with the goal of maximizing the opportunity that each lawyer has to find the right combination of programs. Don’t forget that fundamentals are forever. The population of most law firms is ever-changing. The rhythm of the recruiting season generally brings a crop of new lawyers, fresh out of law school, every fall. These new associates require training in the fundamentals of practice: basic skills of litigation or corporate practice, basic professional habits and an introduction to the firm and its lawyers and clients. Many firms dedicate specific resources and time to this orientation process. It is a fundamental building block on which further training and development is based. A law firm shouldn’t try to make what it can buy more effectively. The idea of bringing all training in-house, in most cases, is probably wrong-headed. There are some really tremendous training resources available from outside sources. A firm’s training coordinators may wish to survey these resources periodically, to develop new programs in underserved areas, and to supplement and extend existing programs. Many outside trainers, moreover, are willing to customize their programs to fit the needs of a particular firm. Outside trainers may also make use of in-house trainers, thus ensuring that training is appropriate to the specific audience, and also helping to “train the trainers” within the firm. Think locally A firm should also pay attention to local needs. The idea of creating and implementing all training programs according to the dictates of some central committee is, in most instances, folly. In a firm with multiple offices, it is nearly certain that the training needs and teaching capabilities of different offices will necessarily differ. As a result, it is probably essential to have training coordinators in each office who can take responsibility for implementing programs chosen by the firmwide committee. These local coordinators, however, should take responsibility for developing local programs. Any programs developed at the local level that prove to be particularly effective, moreover, may be considered for implementation on a firmwide basis. Sometimes getting away from the office enhances concentration. Law firms might consider training retreats. Many firms offer their most important, most comprehensive, training programs by retreat to a location, away from work. The retreat is a serious commitment of time and effort to a training event. It is a symbolic statement by the firm that certain training is particularly important. Lawyers who attend a retreat set aside work to a large degree, in order to focus on training. If the training programs offered at a retreat are appropriate and effective, the retreat method may be particularly successful. The benefits of in-house training are largely intangible. The message from firm management to the firm’s lawyers, however, can be quite powerful: “We value you. We want you to be well-trained in order to succeed in the profession and at this firm in particular. We are willing to listen to you about your needs and interests.” These basic messages are positive and inspiring. Thus, beyond the technical skills imparted in a training program, an effective training system reflects the competence and commitment of firm management and may be an engine of success in many ways.

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