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Trends in International Lawyer Professional Development

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the aftermath of the 2008- 2012 global recession have led to the need for professional development for international lawyers to adapt to the "new normal,"1 as well as to the globalization of business and legal practice.

Working practices in law firms are also changing over the last few years. Millennials, or Generation Y (those born during and after the 1980s), have different needs and expectations than more senior lawyers and partners in their firms. They "want it and they want it now," as Mark Beese of Leadership for Lawyers LLC comments; they are tech savvy, multitasking, and communicate through social networking. They are looking for advancement and a defined career path.

Younger people rely on short-form mobile messaging and instant access to contacts and clients at all times. They have no time to attend lengthy training sessions and say "tell me the basics in 10 minutes," notes Susan Whitehead, a Senior Consultant for Hogan Lovells. Lawyers can access their desktops online wherever they are, through secure VPN services; mobile devices and smartphones provide access to information on the move at all times. Virtual working has driven a move toward remote training delivery — for example, IT training. This has in turn influenced the way skills and legal training are now being delivered internationally.

How Has PD for Lawyers Across the World Been Influenced by These Changes?

International firms have taken all this on board and have begun to incorporate different methods of training and development delivery to engage and motivate their people globally. Cross-border working means that cultural differences need to be taken into account, with the realization that one model doesn’t fit all, and that lawyers from one jurisdiction can learn from those in others. There is still a need for legal technical training alongside training in interpersonal skills (including how to work with clients, colleagues, and teams), but the challenge for international legal development is the combination of local and global — how to bring groups of lawyers together for PD purposes and ensure the relevance and value of the training to all participants. Ensuring consistency of practice in cross-border work — including a similar approach in such matters as billing arrangements, managing the business, and dealing with clients — is a huge challenge for an international multi-sited law firm.

Keeping Costs Down

Although there will, of course, always be a need to bring people together for networking and business development purposes, costs and budgets play a large part in planning and designing PD events. As Tony King, a Consultant with Clifford Chance and former Director of the Clifford Chance Academy, told me, firms are now trying to develop their lawyers in the most cost-effective way and "to avoid moving expensive people to expensive locations in an expensive way." This has led, at many international firms, to more individualized development to encourage high performance through coaching, mentoring, and on-the-job training to complement the ongoing local face-to-face classroom training. The careers of high-performing associates are actively managed by teams of partners, rather than relying heavily on formal, expensive training programs. Kathryn Rousin, Global Head of Learning & Development at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, added that as international firms respond to changing client needs, and consistency and efficiency in delivery become ever more important, they are likely to lead the way in virtual training delivery.

How Technology Has Impacted Global PD

The advances in technology in recent years have made a huge impact in the way professional development is delivered globally, and they help meet the needs of ambitious, busy associates, as well as reducing the costs of training delivery for a firm.

Face-to-face workshops, for example, can be designed to be more interactive, and shorter in length, by supplementing them with pre- and post-program online information, including video and documentary sessions. These can be completed by participants at a time convenient to them and leverage the quality of the instruction in the classroom.

Live webinars can be offered, with experts in the particular field leading online discussions with people at their desks, wherever they are. So, for example, Lex Mundi’s "Live Chat" series allows lawyers from law firms across the world to join in online sessions with expert consultants on a variety of important topics. Some firms offer training around a specific legal document that can be shared on screen while the details of the document are discussed and commented on by experts.

Apps are being developed by international law firms to enable personal development to be accessed anytime, anywhere on lawyers’ iPads or smartphones. Kathryn Rousin told me that in her view "this trend will really change the game." She sees the move away from formal learning to more individualized learning as inevitable — people are making more use of conferencing and collaboration tools such as Microsoft Lync, which offers effective knowledge transfer, and the possibility of direct and "just-in-time" training, which is more individualized and doesn’t require advance scheduling.

The days of the big loose-leaf binders of program materials are diminishing. Small A5 size folders are sometimes provided, which can easily be carried in a small bag, and there often will be a conference app or website where participants can access course materials.

Some firms have designed their own in-house videos of partners talking about a particular deal they have done successfully, or a point on a document. These can be accessed at will as the need arises. Chris Stoakes, former Head of Knowledge & Learning for Hogan Lovells, told me that he feels that the quality of these videos is not important, as younger associates, in his view, are happy with a YouTube experience.

Many firms, however, do not have the resources to develop their own library of in-house videos, and so Hotshot (a new legal start-up founded by two senior executives of PLC and Thomson Reuters) will soon be launching a series of short, practical videos and related materials covering legal and professional skills that will provide just-in-time learning for lawyers as well as materials that will complement PD programs. It will provide a solution that is much cheaper and quicker than a firm creating its own entire libraries of all the videos that would be needed. Ian Nelson (co-founder) says that this will significantly speed up the learning curve and allow young lawyers to hit the ground running. "Outside of legal there is a revolution happening in online, just-in-time learning," he notes. "We think there’s a real opportunity to take the best of these new practices and apply them to legal to help law firms and law schools provide the practical, just-in-time training that lawyers are looking for."

Frameworks for Development

A key trend in international legal professional development is the integration of legal (technical) training with professional and "soft" skills training. Skills development must always be relevant to the day-to-day practice of law; otherwise associates don’t see its relevance (and partners are loathe to allow the associates to leave their day jobs to attend the training). Some international firms have created overarching frameworks to brand their professional development programs and allow for the seamless integration of legal practice and skills training.

The Linklaters Law & Business School is a framework for career-long learning and development, allowing business skills and technical knowledge to be integrated in one holistic syllabus, providing the mix of expertise needed at each stage of a lawyer’s career. The integrated learning structure offers milestone programs globally, starting with new recruits and extending through partner level. It also includes a series of diploma programs that include both skills and legal modules as part of the curriculum.

The Move Away from Case Studies and Simulations for In-House PD Programs

Creative professional development for lawyers in international firms was, until the financial crisis, often based on specially designed simulations or case studies, and taught in small groups by a team of external trainers. So, for example, the award-winning deal simulation TransAct was one of the first such programs to allow participants to deal with real-time practical simulated interventions in a cross-border deal. While business school-type case studies are increasingly in use in programs such as Harvard Law School’s Executive Education program and the Wharton/Penn Law School program, the use of simulated case studies is diminishing in in-house PD programs, and just as reality TV game shows like "Big Brother" have become prevalent, so real-life contributions and discussions of real-life situations have become more important in today’s legal training sessions.

Innovations in Coaching and Mentoring

The move toward real-life situational discussions has spread into various professional development activities. The case studies come from people actually in the room and are not designed in advance for the purpose of the program. As recent articles in PD Quarterly have already explored, both coaching and mentoring now feature heavily in legal professional development programs.

Coaching Groups

A new approach was described to me by Alison Temperley of Oak Consultants in the UK, who has used "coaching groups" in women’s leadership programs to share experiences among the group and to learn from each other. Five or six participants, working with a very experienced coach, talk about one of the challenges they have faced (for example, in progressing in their career and taking a leadership position in their firm). The coach works with an individual in the group and also invites others in the group to coach the participant. In this way, all the participants contribute the real-life context of their own firm, and they receive pointers on skills and attitudes from the coach but all within the context of how things actually work in their firm. It’s also a valuable forum to enable participants from different cultures to compare the different circumstances in which they work. The coach will often follow up these sessions with calls. Coaching groups allow participants to make connections with each other from around the world and to support each other.

Alison described a business development program she delivered together with Anne-Marie L’Estrange, also of Oak Consultants, for a law firm in South Africa, based on the group coaching model. Theoretical input was provided by real clients, whom they interviewed in front of partners, blowing away some of the myths of what people think clients want to hear from their lawyers; one client said, "Why haven’t I been contacted and asked about what I do, not what they do?" They held a panel discussion with senior partners who are well known for their client handling skills, where more junior partners could ask about what worked and what didn’t work. They put together coaching groups of five partners and asked them to talk about the challenges they had faced in developing their book of business — all based on real-life situations (not simulated case studies), which allowed the participants to give each other input and help.

Parental Transition Coaching

Major international law firms already offer parental transition coaching, often providing one session prior to leave, one session during the leave period, and up to three sessions after returning to work. Phanella Mayall Fine from The Executive Coaching Consultancy told me that the benefits from the individual’s point of view are that "they are able to re-engage with work following their leave; they build confidence through the program and are enabled to use their leave period as a career development opportunity." The program provides emotional and practical support to associates at a key point in their career and life, allowing the opportunity to combine a successful career with a flourishing home life. "From the firm’s point of view, research and our experience show that long-term retention prospects are improved as a result of the program," she added.

The coaching sessions can be delivered in person or online, through webinar or video conferencing, and either one-to-one or in groups, depending on the client and on the seniority of the leaver. Working with Michelle Friedman from Advancing Women’s Careers LLC, these programs are soon to be delivered to law firms in North America.

Innovative Programs for Global Lawyers

Driven by the rise in virtual working and the need for virtual communication skills, new skills training in this space is now being integrated into professional development programs for lawyers.

Anne-Marie L’Estrange, for example, told me about a short program she offers that teaches the psychology of virtual and cross-cultural communication skills to lawyers — whether by conference call, webinar, or video conference.

Lex Mundi (the leading network of independent law firms in more than 100 countries) offers training programs for lawyers from its member firms from all over the world at the Lex Mundi Institute. Leadership skills for new and seasoned partners are taught regardless of the home jurisdiction of each participant. Associates practice a range of skills in the context of running a cross-border transaction and an international arbitration; experiential teaching methods and a global faculty of experienced trainers and partners mean that participants leave the program with ways of doing things differently when they return to the office. Networking and business development opportunities are obvious concomitants of the programs.

International law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP is taking a more holistic approach toward development of its partners and heads of business services as leaders, focusing on the whole person, and on their well-being. This emphasis is new and, as Kathryn Rousin, the firm’s Global Head of Learning & Development, explained, is driven by market changes in the wake of the financial crisis and a drive across many sectors toward instilling a culture of responsible leadership. Mindfulness training (employing breathing and meditation techniques to help the practitioner concentrate calmly on the present moment), together with guidance on nutrition and exercise, feature in the new Freshfields Leadership Programme.

HL BaSE, a global business and social enterprise school, is a new product for development of lawyers at Hogan Lovells. "There is a clear recognition that the importance of social impact on the way global business is being undertaken is growing," explained Nicola Evans, Dean of the HL BaSE and a corporate partner at Hogan Lovells, "and our clients expect their lawyers to understand this and adapt their services accordingly." Nicola described, as an example, how Hitachi has combined its global heavy manufacturing industry into a social innovation business, describing social innovation as a "legacy for future generations" (see www. social-innovation. hitachi. com). HL BaSE (Hogan Lovells Business and Social Enterprise training program) provides a combination of practical business training combined with the opportunity to directly advise small businesses. The training program, which welcomed its first group of participants in London in February (and will be rolled out globally during 2015), is being run in association with social enterprise partners Ashoka and UnLtd. The participants are expected to:

  • Gain a fast-track understanding of non-legal business topics such as revenue streams, equity and debt financing, risk, and compliance.
  • Learn how to advise a business in practice, such as developing a business plan and identifying legal risks.
  • Learn about the positive impact of social enterprise, including tax, procurement requirements, regulation, joint ventures, and brand.
  • Be paired with a small business to provide hands-on advice through a half-day supervised workshop — working directly with social entrepreneurs.

The firm used an innovative technique called "Scribble Videos" to describe the program. It can be viewed at www. hoganlovellsbase. com/about/about-hogan-lovells/what-is-hl-base. This great technique can also be used for short training videos, attracting the attention of the younger generation.

The Lawyer as Business Advisor — A Continuing Trend

Clients now expect more from their legal advisors. They expect their advisors to understand their business and where they can add value. There has been a marked shift in international law firms toward moving the lawyer to become a business advisor as well as a legal advisor. Most firms are now offering some sort of global business curriculum for even more junior associates. Although in some jurisdictions business training is an addition to legal training at university level, there is a need to continue to develop these skills to a high level. Training of this type enables closer business relationships with clients, as associates learn how to deeply understand the client’s business and to ask relevant questions to enable them to see why and how a legal issue is important to the client’s world. Some firms have partnered with business schools and offer specialized programs designed to increase the impact and effectiveness of lawyers in working with clients by increasing their understanding of clients’ business challenges and the concepts that underlie their business operations. Examples include:

  • Lex Mundi runs a week-long Business Management program, organized and presented in conjunction with the University of Cambridge, Judge Business School. It is held in Cambridge in the UK and participants from all over the world come together for the program. In its second year, it has received excellent feedback and teaches partners and lawyers business concepts that they have never learned to the same level in the classroom.
  • Milbank@Harvard was the first example (in 2011) of a North American law firm collaborating with Harvard Law School, utilizing Harvard Law and Business School faculty.
  • Reed Smith University was launched in 2004 in partnership with The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Finally

Professional development for lawyers globally is constantly evolving and changing to reflect the changes in business globally. The trick for any PD professional is to remain open to new ideas, be flexible in your thinking, and be brave and prepared to challenge the status quo in your firm. Otherwise you and your firm will be left behind.

Endnotes

  • Gomstyn, Alice, "Finance: Americans Adapt to the ‘New Normal,’" ABC News, June 15, 2009.
  • "Just-in-time" training is defined by www.businessdictionary.com as a training scheme in which the required knowledge and skills are imparted for immediate application to avoid loss of retention due to a time gap.

About the Author

Suzanne Fine is Director of Professional Development for Lex Mundi (www.lexmundi. com), the largest global association of independent law firms, where she advises on professional development and training for member firms globally. She also has a consultancy firm, Professional Education Solutions Ltd (www.professionaleducationsolutions.com), which she set up after five years at Linklaters.

At Linklaters, Suzanne was responsible for merging and running the key departments of Knowledge and Learning. She was instrumental in developing and delivering the Linklaters Law & Business School, a global overarching umbrella for all training and development at the firm, offering a coherent training structure for both lawyers and support staff at the firm. The curriculum includes the Linklaters Practice Diplomas for Lawyers and Partners, and a global framework for Business Services. At Linklaters, Suzanne led various projects to enable fee earners to electronically retrieve information around deals done and the sharing of legal knowledge, including a new global learning and performance management system.

Prior to joining Linklaters, Suzanne was Director of Legal Training at Lovells (now Hogan Lovells) for six years, and has also held significant roles teaching in law schools in the UK, including The College of Law (now University of Law), where she was a Principal Lecturer and Head of the Bar Vocational Course, and Nottingham Law School. She is also a qualified Barrister and Solicitor in England and Wales.