Upskilling junior lawyers - why should law firms embrace E learning?

The COVID 19 pandemic could be seen as a catalyst for a significant and permanent move towards E learning. Why should law firms incorporate E learning into its training programme? This article aims to outline the benefits of adopting such approach from three angles: 1) E learning platforms allow aspiring lawyers to have access to practical legal knowledge, meaning that the informal training begins even before they enter the legal industry; 2) E learning helps law firms save time and costs; 3) E learning is location independent; and 4) the on-demand learning feature optimises flexibility and efficiency. However, it is important to note that although E learning brings about many advantages, it is not a one-stop-shop. Instead, law firms should adopt a blended approach which allows junior lawyers to develop both soft and technical skills. With this being said, law firms should retain elements of their traditional training approach such as face -to-face learning and shadowing senior partners.

Firstly, E learning allows law firms to attract the brightest candidates. This is because law firms can design online internships which allow law students to learn more about what legal professionals do on a daily basis. InsideSherpa is an exemplification of this. The virtual internship platform breaks barriers of entry and provides aspiring lawyers with resources to developing relevant skills before they enter the legal industry. InsideSherpa has partnered with global law firms such as Baker McKenzie, Linklaters and White & Case to develop free interactive virtual legal internships. This enables aspiring lawyers to research these law firms and gain an insight into their main practice areas without having to apply for traditional internships or placements. Law students who complete virtual internships before applying for full time positions are able to demonstrate their keen interests in particular law firms or practice areas. This approach benefits law firms because, when recruiting future trainees, they could take this into consideration and assess candidates’ motivation. Moreover, virtual internship platforms such as InsideSherpa allows law firms to view tasks completed by virtual interns. They are able to contact highly skilled candidates directly should they wish to do so. Thus, E learning not only supports current staff training, it also assists them with hiring decisions.

Secondly, E learning saves time when it comes to staff training. Using commercial/corporate law firms as an example, qualified lawyers are often required to work long hours and may not necessarily have the time to conduct in person training sessions. Since E learning happens on-demand, lawyers can study while at court waiting for the judge to arrive or the jury to come back with their decision, or even while commuting or waiting at the airport to catch a flight. This makes E learning a convenient and effective method for lawyers to continuously develop skills. In addition, E learning offers greater flexibility. The things lawyers and legal staff have to study change all the time (as do laws), making it difficult to keep up via skiants and printed textbooks. E learning training platforms prove to be beneficial as it allows for constant updates.

Thirdly, E learning is not restricted by locations. International law firms often send junior lawyers or associates on secondment overseas for training purposes, this forms a significant part of the training costs since law firms are often required to arrange flights and accommodation for employees. Under the current climate where travel restrictions are still in place, E learning could be the best alternative. This is because lawyers can still familiarise themselves with laws in different jurisdictions without necessarily having to travel to a designated overseas office. For law firms, adopting E learning can lower a significant amount of costs associated with training. Business travels might be on hold for a while but E learning supports law firms with high quality training at lower costs. Working from home (WFH) has become the norm, it is highly likely that E learning will also become an integral part of the training programme.

However, E learning can not replace traditional training. Despite it being convenient and cost-effective, E learning alone is insufficient. This is because legal tech cannot replace emotional intelligence. Whilst E learning helps lawyers develop professional knowledge, it neglects the development of interpersonal skills. Being able to build good rapport with clients is of paramount importance. Traditional training approach is especially helpful when it comes to giving lawyers the opportunity to develop soft skills. Thus, a blended approach should be adopted. The use of both E learning and traditional face to face training not only cuts down costs, but also improves the quality and efficiently of training.

In conclusion, this article outlines the reasons why law firms should embrace E learning when it comes to supporting staff training. E learning helps law firms select the best candidates and reduces training costs substantially. The fact that E learning is location independent allows more flexibility. The pandemic has shifted people’s attention to WFH and E learning is, undoubtedly, a great alternative to traditional legal training. However, it is crucial to note that E learning is only beneficial in terms of professional development, it does not necessarily help lawyers develop soft skills. Hence, a combined approach should be embraced by law firms to maximise the quality of training.

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