Business development is a top growth strategy for most law firms. But to be successful, firms need to build a ‘culture of business development’, something aspired to by many but rarely achieved. A culture of business development requires instilling in the firm a shared client development process, developing the necessary skills (not just knowledge) and coordinating efforts across individuals, practice areas, industry groups and client teams. That’s no easy task. A comprehensive training and business development program that ensures everyone in the firm knows how to grow their individual practice is the first step to achieving that desire business development culture.
One recent study, however, concludes that the current state of business development training in law firms is woefully underdeveloped compared to other industries. The study of 30 large law firms confirms the need for a comprehensive approach to business development training. Business development training is clearly a top priority. Eighty percent of law firms surveyed planned to offer business development training in the next 12 months. But the study also found a myriad of challenges and inefficiencies in the current state of business development training in law firms.
After completing the written survey, we conducted interviews with numerous marketing and training professionals in large law firms to gain a deeper understanding of the survey results and the best practices in law firms. From this survey data and the in-depth interviews, we arrived at eight key insights.
- The vast majority of training initiatives are ‘one and done’ programs.
Complex skills and capabilities are rarely developed in a single learning session. Capability requires intentional practice that is repeated over and over again. An isolated, one-time training program will not achieve the same results as a program that can be revisited and reexperienced in the context of real-life situations. Furthermore, skills should be reinforced using a variety of instructional techniques. Many training programs do not use role playing, recorded practice, group discussions, exercises and quizzes to reinforce the skills they are trying to instill in their lawyers.
- 97% of law firm business development training programs are offered during traditional work hours (meaning the training program must be done at the expense of potential billable hours).
Training during the work day adds a host of hidden costs and challenges including the lost opportunity costs of the billable hours spent in training sessions. It also sacrifices client responsiveness, presents scheduling and attendance challenges, and incurs travel and other costs associated with lawyers taking classroom style, in-person training programs. But is face-to-face training more effective? Research indicates it is not. The Research Institute of America found that eLearning increases retention rates 25% to 60% while retention rates of face-to-face training are very low in comparison: 8% to 10%.
- The vast majority of training programs have not been formally designed to ensure proper instructional techniques, properly sequenced learning paths or that clear and achievable learning objectives have been met.
Telling is not training. Too often, law firms leave the development and execution of training programs to people who are not themselves trained in teaching. Often, rainmakers are asked to share their knowledge of how to build a practice. But these senior lawyers frequently can’t identify the specific skills they have developed that result in new client engagements, let alone understand how to communicate and measure those skills in others. Generational differences and ignorance of the context in which these senior professionals built their practice can compound the disconnect.
- Training topics, techniques and methods are rarely coordinated with business development coaching resources, techniques and methods.
The lack of a formal connection between the training curriculum and the coaching program leaves learners without the ongoing support to fully develop the techniques and skills being learned. Practical application in real life situations enables the training to be internalized. But these two important components are frequently developed and implemented separately leaving the potential of each under-realized.
- Formal metrics, reporting and tracking systems tend to measure attendance or activity but not skills development.
Most training programs do not include the types of instructional assessments which enable training performance to be evaluated and improved. Frequently they monitor attendance or activity levels but don’t assess whether new skills have been learned through the training program. Doing isn’t knowing. Even though ‘activity’ may sometimes result in a new client, knowing how the skills lead to better results is the only way to achieve consistently better performance.
- Training programs generally do not accommodate generational learning style differences.
Younger lawyers have developed learning styles markedly different than their older counterparts. Millennials are more comfortable consuming new information through videos, podcasts and on online discussion or chat groups. Older lawyers tend to be more comfortable in classroom style lectures.
- The scarcity of lawyer time forces firms to pack too much information into hour-long presentations.
Because so much information is taught, it can be difficult for instructors to utilize multiple teaching methods that, when used together, can help to ensure learning. Often, time constraints allow only for teacher-centered training but not learner-centered techniques or participatory learning techniques. Furthermore, it is often difficult for lawyers to access the knowledge when they need it in the heat of a client interaction because the information has not been captured and made available internally.
- Training programs are often one-dimensional and lack the resources and activities that reinforces the learning and skills development.
A survey of 2,500 companies found that those with “comprehensive training programs” have 218% higher revenue per employee and 24% higher profit margins. Yet, most law firm business development training programs don’t provide the multimedia, multi-instructional techniques and resources that build and reinforce learning.
As the eLegal Training study demonstrates, law firms continue to rely on costly, classroom-style instruction led by people without formal training or instructional design knowledge. The importance of a good business development training program can’t be understated. The cost today to deliver a comprehensive, multimedia training program has dropped considerably while the features and resources have increased substantially. Law firms can save 50% to 70% or more in their training budgets and provide a more comprehensive training program by looking to online and mobile learning options.