Three firm representatives discussed coaching programs and their experiences implementing these programs: Sharon Ford of Sidley Austin LLP, Jan Huber of Baker & Daniels, and Julia Montgomery of Arent Fox LLP.

The speakers differentiated coaching from training. Training was described as a traditional classroom or virtual classroom environment with one teacher and more than one student. Coaching is a one- on-one experience that is customized for the pupil. While many firms have training programs in their firms, fewer have coaching programs.

The three offer tips on setting up successful technology coaching programs. Handouts are available on the ILTA website.

One example cited involved the rollout of Office 2007. Initial traditional training was well attended but the attorneys did not retain the content of that single session. Since training for attorneys is not mandated in most cases as it is for staff, they do not have to attend the group trainings. Attorneys may be embarrassed about their lack of technology expertise, leading to their reluctance to attend group training. The panelists felt – both from their own observations and requests from some attorneys –that attorneys often need additional customized one-on-one training. Attorneys felt they were the weak links in creating Office documents, causing additional work for others in their team to fix mistakes. Current trends in firm hiring include less administrative staff, requiring attorneys to create more of their documents themselves. And alternative fee arrangements increase the attorneys’ desire to increase their efficiency. One-on-one coaching allows the attorney to learn these skills without feeling pressure from others observing them.

Panelists shared several tips that helped turn their coaching experiments into permanent programs. Pre-coaching meetings with attorneys allowed trainers to see what products the attorneys used and how they used them. Follow up meetings with the attorneys’ secretaries gave additional insight and gained the secretaries’ acceptance in the process. It is important to coordinate with the attorney’s secretary and the help desk to ensure all parties have a consistent strategy and message. The coaches had the goal of providing customized training but had to balance that with specific core competencies that needed to be emphasized to every attorney. The Help Desk call logs were analyzed to discover which of the attorneys’ skills were commonly underdeveloped, and these were the focus of the core curriculum. Proper preparation of a core curriculum, and customizing it for each attorney allowed both goals to be achieved. Training documentation was posted privately to attorneys, so they did not feel put on display. Coaches always asked attorneys for permission when they wanted to publicize attorney success stories.

Another key to success that all speakers agreed upon was word of mouth promotion by the initial group of attorneys trained. It was emphasized to them that they were getting special coaching that was specifically designed for them.

It looks as if personal coaching of attorneys has a place in the overall training plans of law firms. We will have to wait and see whether this trend continues and becomes more popular in other firms.

Josh Wolf is a technology manager with Thomson Reuters

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