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Training programs are often the first fatality in a tight economy. They are big-ticket expenses, considered to be luxury items aimed primarily at enhancing recruitment and retention strategies. Given that current market forces have shifted, and it is once again an employer market, training programs are in danger of being deemed expendable. The current thinking is, elimination will improve the bottom line without harming recruiting and retention efforts. Think again. While cutting training programs appears to be a quick, easy way to save money, not training associates will ultimately have a greater negative impact on an organization’s bottom line. Without training, junior associates will take longer to become productive. Firms will likely see client dissatisfaction grow as a result of ill-equipped attorneys, which will, in turn, lead to write-offs. If there is one thing to avoid in this economy, it is unnecessary write-offs. The problem is, the cost-benefit analysis comparing training programs to write-offs is not easily identifiable on a balance sheet. Instead, firms opt for the “quick fix” and lop off the “expensive” training programs instead of viewing them as critical, long-range investments that can be amortized over years. While it may seem counter-intuitive, during difficult economic times, investing in training programs is more important than ever. While mandatory continuing legal education continues to be the impetus for associate professional development, there are even more compelling reasons to preserve training budgets. 1. Firms that continue to offer training programs in a down market send a signal to nervous associates that partners have planned for economic ebbs and flows. Continued dedication of resources to training confirms that the firm is fiscally strong and remains committed to associate professional development. It demonstrates to associates that training is a priority, not window dressing. 2. Training programs can be used to supplement skill development normally acquired through regular billable work. Less work means less reinforcement of needed skill sets. Training programs that involve case studies, hypotheticals/analytical exercises, simulations, task-based breakout groups and role-plays that replicate real-world situations can be an effective method of keeping associates’ skills polished and finely honed for when the work picks up again. 3. Continued focus on training provides organizations with an opportunity to teach associates the skills and special knowledge that the organization needs to meet current client demands. For example, rather than have corporate associates sit idly by while financial restructuring associates work around the clock, consider teaching corporate associates what they need to know to be productive (a.k.a. billable) in a related practice group. They don’t have to become financial restructuring experts, but they can learn something new in order to contribute. This would also serve to enhance morale as overworked practice groups see everyone pitching in to lighten their load. 4. Studies indicate that effective training programs are a proven and cost-effective approach to many of the problems facing the legal profession, most notably recruiting and retention. It is shortsighted not to recognize the importance of keeping associates engaged and happy during turbulent economic times. Training is a good way to keep the “keepers” engaged so they don’t bolt the moment the economy picks up. And, if history is any indication, they will if they perceive that they were neglected! Again, while is seems counter-intuitive, firms that provide associates with skills that make it easier for them to leave, create a sense of loyalty that actually encourages them to stay. FINDING THE BALANCE The trick these days is to balance the need to continue providing meaningful training programs with depleted budgets. Limited resources are rarely the true obstacles to effective training efforts; commitment and support are. There are a number of ways to cut costs without sacrificing quality. For example: � Eliminate give-aways. Associates do not really need the T-shirts, baseball caps, key chains and other giveaways that firms typically use to entice them to attend programs. Focus instead on building programs that are relevant to their experience and they will attend with or without the free gifts. � Concentrate on “substance,” not “form.” Handouts are critical to any successful program. However, substantial savings can be had if you resist the urge to have documents color-printed on bond paper and spiral-bound for in-house programs. Participants need written materials that are neat, readable and filled with useful information. Save the fancy presentations for client outreach. � Feed them … just less. Food always enhances training programs. Significant cost savings can be realized here without totally eliminating food. Consider breakfast meetings instead of luncheons. Coffee and bagels are usually cheaper than sandwiches, or better yet, host mid-afternoon meetings with cookies and beverages. In some instances, brown bag lunches may also be appropriate. � Use free resources. Call your Lexis and Westlaw representatives to see what experts they can offer up to supplement your training efforts. Consider using senior associates and of counsel to teach substantive seminars, and administrators to teach client development/marketing, research skills, and soft skills. The goal is to make programs relevant to experience. Always consider your target audience and design programs that are useful and practical for them. Associates will attend if they believe the potential learning outcome is strong and attending the program will be a productive use of their time. Associates must also take responsibility for their own professional development. Lighter workloads mean more time for professional reading and self-education as well as more time to attend bar association programs and outside CLEs. Associates should ask their firm to pay for seminars that they believe will help them be more effective in their jobs. However, even if the firm cannot provide reimbursement, the associates should pay the cost themselves, thinking of it as an investment in their careers. Finally, when thinking about training and associate professional development, think more broadly than formal, off-site classroom seminars with high-paid consultants. A culture of learning can be created by making adjustments to day-to-day practices to enhance training opportunities and career development. For example, link assignments to skill development. Typically, assigning partners give an assignment to an associate who has successfully completed a similar assignment before. Consider assigning associates to projects where they can learn how to perform new tasks. Foster mentor relationships and encourage associates to spend time with senior attorneys where they can observe and ultimately emulate successful behaviors. By using creative methods, firms can continue to focus on training even during challenging fiscal times. The result is sure to be a stronger cadre of associates ready to roll when the economy rebounds. Kathleen Brady is manager of associate training at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy.

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