4 Strategies for Maximizing Your Training Dollars

Strategy 1: Understand the Big Picture

Neither you nor your firm wants to spend money on training. However, spending too little can be just as costly as spending too much. Your firm has two sustainable competitive advantages: your people and your clients. In addition, you have a major investment in technology.

If you don’t spend the right amount on training, you will never maximize that investment. The legal market continues to be more and more competitive. Spending the right amount on training and getting the most from it helps you remain competitive.

In the long run, what can happen if you don’t?

  • Your best people will leave. Sue was a top level law school recruit. She spent two summers with a large firm and decided to join them after graduation.  Two years later she left to join a competing firm in the same city. Someone overheard her say “my secretary didn’t know what she was doing”. The story behind the comment: the secretary did not have the proper training. As this tech-savvy attorney looked around the firm she saw that the majority of the staff were not very skilled. When she was having lunch with a friend of hers that worked for the competition, the friend bragged about how skilled her secretary was. Six months later, the promising associate left.
  • You clients will leave. ABC Bank has been a client for 23 years. Rick, the in house counsel, has been getting pressure from the CEO to reduce their legal costs. For a long time, Rick has been frustrated with the documents he gets from XYZ firm because the formatting is inconsistent and sometimes weird things happen when he tries to make a simple change. One day, he makes changes to a document and sends it to Steve, a partner at XYZ. But when Steve tries to open it up, the document is corrupt. Steve calls Rick and explains to him what happened and tells him that he will have to redo the changes. In three months, ABC Bank begins to move all of their business to another firm. The back story: the document had begun as a WordPerfect document that had been improperly converted. Over time it got worse and worse until it just quick working.

 Strategy 2: Utilize the right mix of in-house and outsourced trainers

In today’s world there is no reason you can’t have your cake and eat it too. One of the biggest expenses in any firm is salaries. There is constant pressure to reduce staff to cut costs. You need to have the right mix of in-house trainers and outsourced trainers to keep your head count low but also get the training you need. The best way to do this is to have the minimum number of in-house trainers that makes sense for your firm and outsource the rest of your training.

I once worked with for a firm that had around 1000 people and over a dozen offices that had zero in-house trainers. On another project, I worked with a firm that had 5 fulltime trainers for a firm of less than 350 people. Although these examples are extreme, it is rare that I work with a firm that seems to have the right amount of trainers.

What is the right number of in-house trainers? This depends on a number of factors and only you will know when you have the right number. I’m going to give you my opinion but I recommend that you check out ITLA’s yearly IT Staffing Survey Results as well. Notice in the table below that for smaller firms, I recommend that they outsource their training. I wish it weren’t the case but usually in smaller firms there simply isn’t the budget for a fulltime trainer.


Number of people in the firm Recommended number of in-house trainers
1-150 None
151 – 600 Two
601 and above Three and then add a trainer for every additional 300 people or so


Why did I say two rather than one for mid-range firms? Training is a mission critical role in a firm. It is a bad idea to just have one person in any mission critical role.

Why are part-time trainers a bad idea? Sometimes firms will hire someone to be a part-time trainer and part-time help desk person (or some other combination). I have never seen this work well. This happens because training almost always takes a back seat to whatever other urgent tasks a part-time trainer is assigned.

When do you need training?

  • When upgrades happen. This is the easiest to outsource. Major upgrades and minor upgrades can easily be handled by contract trainers. It does not make fiscal sense to have a large enough training staff to handle all the training in house.
  • When new people are hired. This is the hardest to outsource but more and more firms are doing this. Here is the rub: if you want to outsource your new hire training you have to be willing to be flexible as to when people get trained. I have a friend who is a contract trainer who does all the new hire training for a firm. Her agreement with the firm is that she will do their new hire training once per month. So as people are hired they have to wait until that day comes up to get their formal training. For smaller firms, I think this can be a good option but for larger firms, I believe this is best handled by in-house trainers.
  • When attorneys and staff are not properly using technology. What I mean be this is your ongoing needs for training. This can be done either in-house or outsourced.

Strategy 3: Execute High Impact Training Projects

Most firms will never reap the benefits of training because they will never implement high impact projects. To be the exception, you need to implement a training project that seeks to either increase revenues or decrease costs and you need to measure that impact. I recommend that you consider one of the following three projects. Any one of them can make a huge impact on your firm’s bottom line.

  • Project 1: Get all attorneys to enter their own time. Okay, so maybe you can’t get them all to do it but you can get most of them to. Studies have shown that attorneys who enter their own time bill four to fourteen percent more than attorneys who don’t. Imagine what an impact it could have if more of your attorneys entered their own time. In my experience, two methods have been effective at getting attorneys the training they need. One is to offer one-on-one training the moment an attorney expresses a desire to enter their own time. Two, is to develop short e-learning modules so that an attorney can click a link and be shown a series of videos that will get them up to speed. In both cases, I recommend you design your training so that this takes up 15 minutes or less of the attorney’s time.
  • Project 2: Get everyone to use styles and templates in their documents. This is the single biggest change you can make to reduce frustration and increase document quality in your firm. Doing a Table of Contents in a document with styles is quick and easy. This is not the case with a document that doesn’t use styles. In addition, documents without styles are hard to format and are more likely to become corrupt. However, implementing styles and templates is a fairly long term effort for training.

o   Before training begins, you have to have the right templates in place. You can do this in house, hire a consultant (one of my services), or work with a third party vendor (e.g. Traveling Coaches, Payne Group, or Litera). What you will need is templates for all of your major kinds of documents (Letters, Memos, Pleadings, etc.) that contain styles and numbering schemes.

o   The templates need to be easy and consistent. For those who want buttons to choose a style, there should be a button. For those who want keyboard shortcuts to choose a style, there should be a shortcut. Every document should use the same buttons and shortcuts. For example, every time someone wants a Level One paragraph they would press ALT+1 or click the “1” button.

o   You need to evangelize and carry a big stick.

  • For whatever reason, some people don’t like styles. I worked with a firm that had seventeen offices. Sixteen offices used styles and one didn’t. The story was that one attorney at the office that didn’t use styles came in to work on a document on a weekend and got mad because he had trouble working with the document supposedly because it had styles. He declared that no one in that office was to ever use styles. Sad.
  • Everyone from the runners to the partners should be trained. The firms that I know that have made this work, make styles a part of most of the training they do: Summer Associate, New Hire, and On Going training. Also, I recommend that you have e-learning modules to back up the live training. You really have to be passionate about using styles to get people on board.
  • You need to get everyone on board. There is one thing worse than not using styles: “Style Wars”.  Style Wars is when some of the people are using styles and some are not. This just makes people on both sides of the issue mad and costs a huge amount of time as people add and remove styles. After you have really gone above and beyond to give people the opportunity to get training, then you need to start weeding out those who aren’t using styles.
    • For staff, make it mandatory. One firm I know uses a tool that allows them to audit their DMS. When they see that a secretary is not using styles, she gets a visit from the HR director.
    • For attorneys, make it easy. Surprisingly enough, most attorneys seem to get on board with this if you just make it easy for them. They quickly see the benefits. For holdouts, have their secretaries create “bare bones” documents for them.
    • Project 3: Move email archives to your DMS. It is not a matter of “if” but of “when” this becomes an issue. At some point a judge is going to issue a “freeze” order for a case. How are you going to comply with that order when the case is 4 years old and 24 different people have emails stored in Outlook folders (and 3 of those people have left the firm)? In addition, emails are just like physical files in that some of them need be destroyed based on a retention schedule. So if in year 8 an appeal is filed and you should have destroyed some emails in year 7, your firm could be sued for malpractice.

o   Outlook was never designed to be an email storage system. Outlook was designed to be a communication system. It is lousy at storing emails. If you have 30,000 emails stored in Outlook it gets really slow (as you well know). If you have 30,000 stored in your DMS, performance is not a problem. Microsoft knows that although millions of people use Outlook, it is not a great solution for email storage. In fact, Microsoft’s new tablet, the Surface RT, won’t even run Outlook.

o   You have to make it as easy to store emails in your DMS as to store them in Outlook. Tools are available to make this a reality. The best way is to first implement “matter centricity”. The way this works is that whenever a new matter is opened, all the people that need access to that matter are “subscribed” to it. Once they are subscribed to a matter they get a list of folders like “Correspondence, Pleadings, etc.”. Included in this list is a folder called “emails”.  With this system in place, all they have to do is drag and drop and an email or a group of emails on to a folder. The emails are then automatically profiled and moved to the DMS. The best implementation of this I have seen used the latest version of iManage’s WorkSite.

o   You have to do training on storing and searching. The training on the storing part of the system is typically pretty straightforward. On the other hand, searching for emails in the DMS is different than searching for them in Outlook. This is where training really needs to help. Your people have to be confident that they can find the emails they are looking for in the DMS or they will continue to use Outlook. On the other hand, the tools are there and once they learn how to use them, they will likely be able to find the emails they want even quicker than when using Outlook.

o   You need to implement strong policies gradually. The goal is to have only the most recent emails stored in Outlook. One firm I worked with had a policy that any email stored in Outlook that was older than 30 days, was deleted.  They were only able to do this because they had great systems in place and they had done a lot of solid training. However, they also gradually implemented this policy over a two year period.

 Strategy 4: Use Webinars for On Going Training

Unless your firm only has one office, I highly recommend that most of your ongoing training be done via webinar. I worked in a firm that had seven offices. When we did in person classes sometimes we would have no shows or limited attendance. When we did webinars, participation was much greater.

  • Webinars leverage your training time. In every firm there are a limited number of people that need certain classes (e.g. Table of Authorities). These people are likely to be scattered over multiple offices. Why not use a webinar to give people from all offices a chance to participate?
  • Webinar can be just as interactive as in person classes. When I first started doing webinars it was in 2008 when the economy went south and our travel budget was reduced. I saw them as a necessary evil. But one day, I had an epiphany.  I was doing a webinar on email management and I realized that I was getting more participation during the webinar than I would typically get in an in person class. I was sold! Now, I am equally happy doing in person training or doing training via webinar.
  • Webinars can easily be outsourced. It is easy to work with contractors and have them do webinars for your people. Some firms are even having contractors do upgrade and new hire training via webinars. This can be a big win! You don’t have to pay salaries and you don’t have to pay travel costs for contractors. For single topic webinars, consider hiring me. Also, Savvy Training does a series of seasonal webinars they you may be interested in.
  • Webinars can be recorded. Once they have been recorded you can post them to your Internet so that they can be seen at any time. Not only can this be done for webinars your trainers conduct but also for other webinars that are done by subject matter experts in the firm.

Please keep in mind that this document contains one person’s opinions. I hope that you have found at least one idea that has been helpful to you. Proceed with caution. Don’t sue me if something goes wrong.

Note: this post was adapted from a White Paper I wrote as a former email list signup incentive.

Question: I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What has worked (or hasn’t worked) in your training efforts? You can leave a comment by clicking here.



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2 thoughts on “4 Strategies for Maximizing Your Training Dollars

  1. I am a contract trainer – could not agree more! Tip: CCC Macros are absolutely the BEST – incredibly easy and powerful! I’ve trained all macro programs and this is by far my favorite.