The Importance of Technology Training in Legal Organizations

Among the nontraditional stakeholders who bring so much to the delivery of legal services, technology trainers hold a special place in my little lawyer heart.
 

the fundamental task of management remains the same: to make people capable of joint performance through common goals, common values, the right structure, and the training and development they need to perform and to respond to change.

Peter Drucker. The Essential Drucker.

 
 

Training is, quite simply, one of the highest-leverage activities a [legal organization] can perform. Consider for a moment the possibility of your putting on a series of four lectures for members of your [organization]. Let’s count on three hours preparation for each hour of course time—twelve hours of work in total. Say that you have ten students in your class. Next year they will work a total of about twenty thousand hours for your organization. If your training efforts result in a 1 percent improvement in [the trainees’] performance, your [organization] will gain the equivalent of two hundred hours of work as the result of the expenditure of twelve hours.

Andy Grove. “Chapter 16: Why Training Is The Boss’s Job.” High Output Management

 

As an educator, I fear world-class [law schools] and high-performance [legal organizations] overinvest in “education” and dramatically underinvest in “training.” Human capital champions in higher education and industry typically prize knowledge over skills. Crassly put, leaders and managers get knowledge and education while training and skills go to those who do the work. That business bias is both dangerous and counterproductive.

 

Michael Schrage. “How the Navy SEALs Train for Leadership Excellence.” Harvard Business Review.

 

Technology is now as important a skill as are reading, writing, and mathematics. Everyone [including lawyers] needs to be able to use computers, search for information on the Internet, use word processors and spreadsheets, and download apps. These skills are now common and useful in every profession [including law].

 

This imbalance in technological growth will have some surprising implications. For instance, workers more and more will come to be classified into two categories. The key questions will be: Are you good at working with intelligent machines or not? Are your skills a complement to the skills of the computer, or is the computer doing better without you? Worst of all, are you competing against the computer?

 
The Productivity Case for Technology Training
 
Turning Andy Grove’s point above into something more visual, here is a chart that translates productivity gains into full-time equivalents (FTE) at scale:
 
 
At a certain point, productivity gains add more to output than new headcount. Technology, training, and training on technology can be important sources of productivity gains. This remains true even when accounting for time invested in implementation and training. The following chart is entitled “Is It Worth The Time” and comes from my favorite webcomic, xkcd:
 
 
 
The math is simple. But the implications are profound. Sometimes, we have a hard time thinking at scale. Often, we are so focused on our immediate responsibilities that we fail to appreciate the benefits of investing in a better way of doing things. The comic I repeatedly use to illustrate this point:
 
 
The Case for Training, Not Just Technology
 
It is tempting to read the foregoing as a simple call for investment in new technology. That would be a mistake.
 
The common trap is make the purchase, flip the switch, and, BAM!, reap the productivity gains. After all, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” But sobering studies out of MIT find that for every dollar spent on new technology, enterprises must invest an additional ten dollars in organizational capital—training and process redesign—to capture the technology’s full benefits. Again, for every $1 spent on technology, you need to invest $10 in training and process.
 
Because people need to be trained and workflows need to be redesigned, related studies find that it typically requires five to seven years for an enterprise to properly integrate new technology. Without the complementary investment of time and resources, the technology only partially fulfills its promise, if at all. As a result, we have plenty of existing technology not being used anywhere close to full potential. As Greg and I have observed, much of that latent technology capacity has been sitting on lawyers’ desktops for over two decades. Training on already-purchased technology can, in many instances, be more cost effective than purchasing new technology (though not always, sometimes the already-purchased technology is terrible, or the new technology is awesome).
 
The Ethical Case for Technology Training
 
Even states that have not yet followed the ABA in changing their rules of professional conduct to expressly reference “technology” are recognizing the necessity of technology for the practice of law: “Legal rules and procedures, when placed alongside ever-changing technology, produce professional challenges that attorneys must meet to remain competent.”
 
There is, of course, the cost component. Lawyers should not be charging their clients for two hours of labor when proper use of an available machine could reduce that labor to two minutes. Not knowing that technology could substitute for labor and, as a result, overcharging the client is a violation of a lawyer’s evolving ethical duty of competence.
 
But proper use of technology is about so much more than speed and cost. As I show in this rather simple video, not only does the failure to use simple features like automated numbering and cross-references add hours of unnecessary labor, but it also multiplies the opportunities for error by several orders of magnitude. Machines are better suited for the mind-numbing, drudgerous, laborious, and the tedious. They don’t get bored, tired, distracted, or bitter. Our work product should get better, not just cheaper, when we use technology properly. But incorporating technology requires training.
 
The Happiness Case for Technology and the Myth of the Digital Native
 
Lawyers will, of course, do the monotonous, banal, tiresome, and mundane whenever necessary. The idea of the “law factory” where younger lawyers “grind out standardized legal advice, documents, and services” is older and more prestigious than most practitioners recognize. But the extent to which lawyers are grinding has grown to the point where Vault is compelled to rate legal employers on whether they actually give their young attorneys substantive work. It should be unsurprising to anyone who has ever been a young lawyers, or around them, that associate attorney is, by far, the unhappiest job in America:
 
 
Notice how the young woman in the picture is staring at a computer (12-22 hours per day), rather than yelling at Jack Nicholson that “I want the truth” during her very first trial or beginning a closing argument to a jury with “I’m here to apologize. I am young, and I am inexperienced.” I imagine that she is actually thinking something along the lines of:
 
 
The reality is that computers are not magic. Computers do what we tell them to do. But we have to know what and how to tell them. While great strides have been made for limited-purpose, consumer-level applications (e.g., Instagram), the user interfaces of most professional applications remain far from intuitive.
 
 
 
 
Navigating unintuitive software is a bundle of learned skills, not an innate talent. The digital native is a myth. Acquiring a Twitter account in utero does not bestow an innate ability to commune with the machines. While 83% of them sleep with their smart phone, 58% of Millennials struggle to solve basic problems using technology. Most of what passes for the technological sophistication of our youth comes in the form of passive consumption (e.g., YouTube) or, at best, rudimentary communication (e.g., texts, Facebook). They are not trained, and therefore do not know, how to use the technology they encounter in a professional environment. They also don’t know what they don’t know and labor under delusions of adequacy. These delusions and the attendant time wasted on low value activities is one source of lawyers’ misery.
 
Proper training could eliminate some of lawyers’ ennui by permitting them to spend more time on the high-value work that makes our vocation gratifying.
 
The Business Case for Technology Training
 
In a law department or AFA environment, the appeal of higher quality work in less time is self-evident. But even reducing the number of billable hours spent on low-value work can prove profitable. Too much time on drudgery is precisely what lawyers, law firms, and clients are cutting. From a profit perspective, uncompensated time is pure waste that piles opportunity costs on top of actual costs. As I’ve written previously, the legal market that exists today has plenty of room to simultaneously lower costs for clients while increasing profits for law firms.
 
In Sum
 

Technology trainers have the potential to make major contributions to the legal value stream. I believe strongly that they are among the most undervalued contributors to the success of a properly run legal organization. Too bad many lawyers are right to think that traditional approaches to technology training are terrible, as I will detail in my next post.

 
 
 

Casey Flaherty is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker. He believes that there is a better way to deliver legal services. Better for the clients. Better for the legal professionals. Better for the bottom line. Casey is creator of the Legal Technology Assessment, an integrated Basic Technology Benchmarking and training platform. Follow Casey on LinkedIn and on Twitter @DCaseyF.

 

See also:

Hello
Strategic Sourcing: The Service Delivery Review
Deep Supplier Relationships
Law Firm Realizations
Structured Dialogue

 

The Role of Nontraditional Stakeholders in Structured Dialogue

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