Eight Strategies to Make Your
Business Development Training
On average, law firms are losing $74,100 in revenues per lawyer each year. Today, lawyers are billing nearly 160 fewer hours than they did a dozen years ago. This stark reality was revealed in the recent state of the industry study by The Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute. The slack in demand is being driven by a variety of factors, all of which have been well-documented. But one factor that is not being talked about is the state of the business development training and coaching that firms use to build their business development capabilities in the firm.
While there is a renewed focus on business development in general, there is not much of a focus on the training, learning and development required to assure the success of this growth strategy. A recent survey of 30 large law firms conducted by eLegal Training found a myriad of challenges and inefficiencies in the current state of business development training in law firms. We took those findings and our own experience reviewing and designing business development training programs to recommend a number of steps law firm leaders can take to improve the quality and effectiveness of their business development training and coaching programs.
Conduct a training needs assessment before designing the training program
People are different, have different needs and learn in different ways. They have different styles of learning, preferences for learning, start at different levels and have different time constraints for learning. Before designing a training program, perform a needs assessment to identify the unique training requirements of each main practice area in the firm and the lawyers targeted for the learning. Identify and map out the practice area’s unique business development methodology and processes and then design the training program to those specifications. Then, survey learners for how they want to learn, how they want to access the training and what mediums they prefer to be trained through as well as how best to reinforce the training throughout the workday. Deliver the training in the modalities that the various groups of learners prefer.
Focus on skills, not just knowledge
Telling is not training. Knowing what to do is not the same as being able to do it. Just ask anyone who has been told how to parallel park but hasn’t actually tried to parallel park. They learn quickly that knowing what to do in theory doesn’t mean you’re able to do it in practice. It takes practice to learn to parallel park well. The same is true of business development.
Training that gets results builds knowledge and skills. Knowledge tells you what to do but skills tell you how to do it. Knowledge can be tested but skills must be observed. Practice, role playing, exercises, group discussions and other techniques can provide skill-building opportunities to hone the skills of business development. Coaches and mentoring can also be good ways to provide, not only post-training reinforcement, but also the forum to practice applying the knowledge the lawyer gained in the training.
Understand the Differences in Methodology Between Practices
One size fits all training doesn’t fit all. Practice areas are different and tend to emphasize different strategies that work best to attract clients or win engagements. The litigator’s marketing dilemma, the idea that ‘you can’t encourage a company to get itself sued’ is an example of how the marketing of a litigation practice is different from the marketing of a transactional practice. The urgency of the need for legal services and whether or not the solution is optional for the company affects the business development process.
For instance, legal solutions can cause disruption to business processes that requires internal stakeholders to weigh in on the decision. A major law suit may not require much consensus among the stakeholders – the company has to respond. But an acquisition or a change to a contract can require more review inside the company before the decision is made to hire a lawyer. Understanding the client decision experience and designing the business development training to accommodate the client’s informational needs and decision points is particularly important in the legal industry and will make the training much more effective for the lawyers in each practice area.
Design a Supportive Experience for the Learner
Business development is a social skill. Social skills rarely become expert skills in isolation. Lawyers interface with numerous others throughout the learning process including practice group leaders, firm leadership, professional staff and administrative assistants. Those that can influence or support the lawyer’s learning should get exposure to what the lawyer is learning, especially the program’s learning objectives, methodologies and strategies. Language is the most important determinant of culture. The language that evolves in a business development training program often becomes a mental shortcut for otherwise complex concepts. Teaching the support personnel and leadership these concepts helps to expedite the learning, improve results and build a business development culture in the firm.
Incorporate Instructional Design into Your Training
Instructional design simplifies learning for the learners. Through careful planning, it identifies the critical skills and the easiest and most effective ways to teach learners the information and skills they need. As a result, the learning process is shortened, objectives are met more easily, and resources are optimized. Good instructional design improves the return on your training investment.
Too often, law firm business development training programs don’t undergo a rigorous instructional design review process. That means that the training did not articulate clear learning objectives to guide development and instruction of the program. It can also mean that the specific skills required to accomplish the learning objectives have not been clearly identified and the proper instructional techniques such as exercises, quizzes and case studies have not been incorporated to ensure the skill is taught. Frequently we see training that has not been sequenced into logical learning paths where higher level skills are built upon lower level skills. An instructional design disciple also will require that the program clearly states how outcomes will be measured, an important component to build support and demonstrate results for the investment in training.
Provide Multiple Training Modalities to Appeal to Different Learning Styles
The vast majority of training in law firms is done in lecture-style workshops, typically created in house and done within an hour. It mirrors the training styles ingrained in law school. But successful programs incorporate training delivered through multiple mediums and accommodate different learning styles such as in podcasts, video or eLearning as well as lecture-style workshops. Multiple mediums enable people to take advantage of the training in a way that works best for their unique learning style and preferences. And putting the training online enables learners to access the information as much as they need it or even just when they need it.
Incorporating learning styles into your program’s design extends the appeal of the program and its effectiveness. There are seven different learning styles, all of which should be incorporated into your training program. Most learners access several learning styles but tend to prefer one or two over the others. The learning style preference can change over time. If your learning style is:
· Visual (spatial), you prefer using pictures, images, videos and spatial understanding.
· Aural (auditory), you prefer using sound as in listening to a podcast.
· Verbal (linguistic), you prefer using words, both in speech and writing. Verbal learners learn best by reading.
· Physical (kinesthetic), you prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch to experience new information. Role playing, mock situations and other techniques can accommodate this learning style.
· Logical (mathematical), you prefer using logic, reasoning and systems-thinking to learn new information. You want information that is logically sequenced and factual.
· Social (interpersonal), you prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
· Solitary (intrapersonal), you prefer to work alone and use self-study.
Design Post-Training Reinforcement into Your Program
Have you ever crammed for an exam only to forget most of what you learned 30 days later? That’s because the brain holds information in short-term memory and does not automatically feed it to long-term memory. The brain has to be told to store that information in long term memory.
Reinforcement is how you do transfer information from short term memory to long term memory. Training reinforcement happens when you provide strategic content as a training follow-up to help the brain recall and reuse information. Doing this several times helps to transfer that information to long-term memory. Without training reinforcement, the brain’s natural cognitive processes flush that information away.
While there are several factors that go into the amount of forgetting that happens and the speed in which it happens, the body of research indicates that people forget approximately 50 percent of training within just one hour, and 70 percent after 24 hours. Within 30 days, that amount of forgetting increases to 90 percent unless something is done to help learners retain the most important information.
Reinforcement needs to focus on the most critical, block-building information and occur sequentially after the training. Most learning professionals advise reinforcement happening immediately after the training, again in a few hours after, two weeks post training and again after four weeks. The repetition and engagement designed into a reinforcement program will multiply the retention of the information.
It's not difficult or complicated to add post training reinforcement to your training program, it’s just not often done and certainly not done in a way that reinforces the most critical skills and knowledge in the training. Types of post-training reinforcement content can include:
· Quizzes with multiple choice and/or short answer questions
· Surveys and polls
· Short videos on similar topics
· Case studies with questions and comments related to the material
· Emails and messages with facts, statistics, tips and techniques related to the materials
We don’t have data on what law firms do to reinforce their training. But we do have information on the non-law world. The statistics there don’t paint a pretty picture. In companies with a sales force, less than half of all companies provided post-training reinforcement. But companies that did incorporate post-training reinforcement saw a 34% increase in the number of sales reps that achieved their sales quotas. According to Richardson, a leading sales training company, companies who use post-training reinforcement are able to increase the retention of the training content 87%.
Integrate and Align Coaching with Business Development Training
Coaching and training are not an either/ or proposition. You need both. And lots of it. But too often, one or the other is missing or not fully utilized. The biggest problem however is that the two are rarely integrated together. This results in two or more methodologies being taught often resulting in conflicting priorities and divergent strategies.
Business development methodologies taught through training should be reinforced in the coaching sessions. And coaching programs should be integrated with the business development training to ensure it reinforces what is being taught in the training.
The disconnect is especially problematic and more difficult to control when different outside resources are used for training and coaching. Sometimes multiple vendors are used. Too often, their methods have not been vetted against an approved program. This can lead to confusion, conflicting priorities and poor results.
A well-designed training program can improve the results of the training tenfold. And that translates directly into the revenues and profitability of the firm. Without it, you might as well forget about training because, well, it’ll be forgotten anyway.
About the Author
Eric Dewey, MBA provides marketing and practice development consulting, business development coaching and training, elearning and course development, instructional design and LMS system management to law firms throughout the U.S. As the former chief marketing executive in four large law firms and a consultant to dozens more, he has successfully coached hundreds of lawyers to help them focus their practice, build competitive advantage and attract profitable clients. He launched eLegal Training, LLC, an online business development training, coaching, resource and referral community for lawyers with Quimbee.com at the start of 2020. The platform features 50+ learning modules, a knowledge library, gamification, custom dashboards, automated reporting and reminders, and coaching to help lawyers achieve their goals faster and more efficiently.