CPD Needs an Internal Component Too

Most lawyers are used to getting their CLE/CPD credits from external organizations. But have you considered the role your law firm plays in transferring knowledge from one lawyer to the next?

This is Small Firm Innovation, of course, and most readers will be lucky to have more than a handful of lawyers within their own firm. Even under these conditions, however, it’s important to recognize that every business, big or small, faces an element of “knowledge transfer” to remain healthy.

Most firms begin by addressing the internal training needs of staff members. That’s a good start, and important, but overlooks the needs of individual lawyers. Younger lawyers in particular benefit from organized training by a firm’s senior attorneys. At one of my former firms, a training curriculum was created — a 100+ page planning document of session summaries — establishing exactly what it wanted Associates to know in their early years of practice. A series of seminars and training sessions took place throughout the year to support this plan.

Lawyers in smaller firms have the exact same needs. That’s an important fact, along with the acknowledgment that these needs aren’t always met. As such, smaller firms will rely on external CPD, perhaps even more than larger firms, in order to serve these training needs.

The problem with relying on external CPD is the generic nature of these programs. They hold nothing of the firm’s methodology for legal practice, or address the firm’s culture of business practices and ethics. “Culture” is of course the key word in the prior sentence.

But CPD is changing, and we can expect different alternatives for lawyers in the future. Some jurisdictions are already accrediting in-house lawyer training programs, along with established lawyer study groups, and other less formal arrangements. The training programs that get “approval” are typically going to be well documented and structured. This leaves smaller firms at a disadvantage. Most will complain that they simply don’t have the time to create such a structured training program.

But they should. Just as every other small business owner needs to. Good documentation of one’s business delivery methods — see the Michael Gerber’s E-Myth series — is critical to maintaining good “health and longevity” for all types of businesses.

How can a firm get started? Consider these suggestions:

  • Identify the “must-know” aspects of working in your firm, and classify them by “legal knowledge,” “law firm business,” and “our firm’s culture.”
  • Review the first two categories for subjects that could justify MCPD accreditation, and apply to your local regulator for approval.
  • Designate a specific partner to assemble a curriculum for each of 3-5 subjects, circulate that curriculum to all lawyers, and schedule two one-hour seminars annually where the curriculum is discussed by all participants.
  • Ensure that the time taken to accomplish the foregoing is included in year-end compensation.

Smaller firms may need to be less ambitious, be more focused in their approach, or take a little longer in its development, but creating an internal lawyer training program is definitely an idea worth pursuing.

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