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February 23, 2011

How to train lawyers in project management

Training professionals often talk about the importance of distinguishing between two types of goals: education and behavior change.  Of course, almost every training program aims at both.  But clients get the greatest return on their training investment when they think carefully about the tradeoffs between the two, and which is more important to their firm.

An educational program enables you to get information out to a large group at a low cost per person.  Most training programs fall into this category, with an instructor standing in front of the room conveying information, and perhaps a few breakout groups for participants to discuss key concepts.

Educating is relatively easy, but changing behavior is very hard.  Training programs that focus on behavior change include just-in-time training, an approach that enables people to save time by finding exactly the information they need, just when they need it, and then apply it to their work with immediate and practical effect.  Camden R. Webb, a partner at Williams Mullen who recently participated in one of our just-in-time legal project management programs, described the action-oriented philosophy this way:

 Don't hold a series of committee meetings for a year and then do a top-down analysis.  Just do something.  This will spread project management, because when lawyers succeed, others in the firm will imitate their success.

It is also possible to create programs that combine education and behavior change.  One example is our Certified Legal Project Manager™ program, which can take up to six months to complete.  Lawyers earn certification by working with an expert coach and completing two distance learning modules: a self-paced introduction to legal project management and a case study in which they apply the principles to their own practice.  The first module concentrates on achieving the educational goal and the second module on achieving the behavior change.

When professional trainers measure the success of programs, they often refer to Donald Kirkpatrick’s four levels, as described in his influential book Evaluating Training Programs:     

Level 1, Reaction, measures how participants feel at the end of a course.  Surveys ask such questions as, “On a scale from 1 to 5, how much did you learn from this course?”  Level 1 is easy to measure, and many training programs measure response only on this level.
Level 2, Learning, measures how well students have mastered the course objectives by directly testing their knowledge.  This provides evidence of a cognitive change, but does not necessarily link to a change in behavior.
Level 3, Transfer to the job, measures how the knowledge, skills, and values from a training program are actually used on the job.  
Level 4, Organizational impact, measures performance improvement, quality improvements, and cost savings to an organization, some time after the training.

At this time, most legal project management programs measure results at Level 1, or not at all.  Our just-in-time training programs and our Certified Legal Project Manager™ program include measurement at Levels 3 and 4. 

When law firms ask which approach is the best way to get started, we almost always recommend just-in-time training, because it produces immediate tangible benefits.  These quick wins can help other lawyers see the value of the project management approach.

Don’t get me wrong; at this moment in time, any competent training program in legal project management could be of great benefit to your firm.  But the more carefully you think about how the importance of education vs. behavior change matters to you, the greater will be the return on your training investment.

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