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Another upgrade. Another program change. Forget the old way of doing things. Now, there are more new features to learn, although your attorneys and staff have not yet mastered the old way. And did we mention that the new version has bugs? The ability to master a wide variety of ever-changing software is an integral part of being a lawyer today. There is a program for virtually every function or legal application, ranging from straightforward applications like e-mail to complex legal research and document production programs. Templates and macros designed to make some of these programs easier to navigate, when used by the untrained, can bring disastrous results. Gone are the days when secretaries or word processors prepared a document with an attorney’s handwritten changes. Most attorneys at least draft their own documents, and many produce documents from start to finish. This is more efficient for younger attorneys, especially those who never learned to dictate and are adept at typing. Large, complex documents, once exclusively the provenance of professional printers, were brought in-house to word processing departments years ago. Over time, secretaries and attorneys became increasingly involved in the production process. Today, some of these documents do not involve the word processing department at all, but are created at the attorney’s desk, with or without secretarial assistance. Consider a 200-page prospectus that may take one week to create: The final product may include sections cut and pasted from previous documents, sections provided by third parties from a variety of programs, and some original typing. Further challenges are created by the number of people involved in this process — attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, word processors and temps. Although the firm may have established standards, each person has his or her own idea of how to create and edit a document. The final document will likely be a jumble of styles and formats, inevitably resulting in document corruption at the worst possible moment — when changes are being made at 2 a.m. to meet a critical deadline. Almost all of these problems can be avoided with proper training. This process is generally manageable when it comes to support staff since the firm can require them to attend training, testing, and follow-up sessions. Training attorneys is an entirely different matter. FOOD, AWARDS, GIFTS While attorneys understand the value of training and the problems that result when they do not know how to perform a function, it is difficult to get their time and attention. They may have the best of intentions, but their time is not their own, and they often have to cancel classes at the last minute. And if they do attend class, they often are distracted by phone calls or other more pressing matters. Over the years, New York-based Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft tried a number of approaches to attorney training. We offered classes after hours, early in the morning, and every time between. We offered classes on weekends. We offered training on each floor so attorneys could be close to their offices. We offered private classes. We fed people. We gave awards. We even gave gifts. Finally, we came to the conclusions that, one, traditional classroom training works only for basic functions like BlackBerry training, where everyone is at the same skill level and, two, sessions should last for no longer than 30 minutes as attention inevitably starts to wane. The greatest problem was training attorneys how to produce complex documents. We found that this training could be accomplished only in small sound bites at the attorney’s desk and, whenever possible, working with a live document. The feedback we received from attorneys was that training was most useful for a particular function when given at the time they were working on a document. Instead of attending training sessions, attorneys were calling our Help Desk when they were having a problem or needed assistance in performing a function. The Help Desk staff were rapidly becoming the firm’s trainers as the majority of calls were “how-to” questions. Providing extensive how-to assistance was tying up the Help Desk staff and preventing them from handling more appropriate calls in a timely manner. We decided that we needed to delegate this function to dedicated trainers who were available to provide personal assistance whenever attorneys needed help. In order to track which functions were most often requested and who regularly needed how-to assistance, we added a field to our call log to mark whether the problem was a training issue. This helped us to determine if there was a function that caused problems or if certain users needed individual training. TURNED TO OUTSOURCING Though we had two full-time trainers, this was not enough to provide immediate deskside service, since the trainers also provided regular classroom training for new hires. We considered hiring additional staff, but were not satisfied with the quality of applicants we saw. Outsourcing was viewed to be the best alternative. The firm had worked with New York-based Perfect Access Speer for almost 10 years for training help during major upgrades. So PAS was the obvious choice to staff our training department with qualified, professional trainers to accomplish our new mission. Yet outsourced training was not something that PAS provided. After some negotiation, we entered into an arrangement whereby PAS supplies four full-time trainers, including one manager. Besides handling classroom training for new hires and new applications and refresher classes for existing applications, these trainers are also available for deskside help with immediate problems or for tutoring in a specific subject or function. PAS also works with the firm’s trainers in our regional offices to ensure uniformity in our training programs. In addition to training, PAS assists in the development of documentation. We have learned that few people outside of the IT department ever actually read documentation. As a result, we have developed “cheat sheets,” single-page instructions for a particular function. The goal is to make using computers as easy as using cash machines, whenever possible. The largest challenge still remains: teaching users to navigate the intricacies of creating and revising large, complex documents. Here, there is far too much information to break down into individual cheat sheets. And because some of the functions are interdependent, it is difficult (and dangerous) to break these out into unique tasks without providing an understanding of the total picture. We continue to work on this issue by focusing on the practice groups that are the prime users. Linda Swartz, co-chair of the tax department and chair of the technology strategic planning committee, has long been a proponent of focused training for attorneys. The attorneys in her group are required to attend classes for specific document styles unique to their area of practice. Swartz often attends classes too, to ensure that her attorneys thoroughly understand the processes. She has also been involved in developing documentation and cheat sheets for attorneys. Her participation has resulted in far more meaningful and useful documentation for our legal staff. The firm’s relationship with PAS is entering its second year. We had originally planned on having them train only on the standard applications, but they have expanded to cover BlackBerrys and Palm Pilots. Considerable progress has been made, but regular software upgrades, the ever-changing PDA market, and the challenges of learning complex programs and functions guarantee that training is a never-ending process. We will continue to explore new and innovative methods for ensuring that our legal and administrative staffs are well-trained so as to efficiently and effectively service our clients. Greta Ostrovitz is director of information technology in the New York office of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

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