Posted by Jon Andrews, a partner at Legal Futures Associate Express Solicitors
I am delighted and lucky to be part of a business that recognises the critical importance of training and development.
When I joined Express, I was tasked with providing regular training to an employer’s liability team of over 60 (now nearing 100) people on a regular basis.
We agreed that this would not comprise of the all-too-common mix of presentations from business-seeking expert witnesses and barristers, but would be specifically tailored and largely provided by me and others within the team.
After over 30 years in the profession, I relished this opportunity. I also had time to consider how and why we should provide such training, and critically what the content should be.
There are countless articles on how to provide training in all manner of businesses that you will be able find on the internet with the briefest of searches. Few of them however, if any, are of specific relevance to a thriving claimant personal injury business.
Over the past 12 months, I have direct experience of designing and implementing just such a training programme and here I share my thoughts.
Everyone involved in personal injury litigation will agree that training is a very important issue. The real question, however, is whether they actually believe that and, if they do, how they implement such training.
Many lawyers of a certain age will remember the importance that used to be placed on undertaking a certain number of hours professional training each year. If they are being completely honest, many will remember that, towards the end of the ‘training year’, there was often an unseemly rush to acquire the necessary hours, even if it meant attending courses that were of questionable relevance, or in some cases, quality.
Unfortunately, that mentality persists in some businesses. Training is seen as something which has to be done and should be provided. But, as long as it is available and as long as the necessary records are kept, little attention is paid to the value such training can bring.
They fail to appreciate that training can have a direct impact on the bottom line of any personal injury business. Quite simply, good training will win cases for you. An absence of training, or poor-quality training, will lead to cases being unnecessarily abandoned or lost, or in some cases will lead to complaints and negligence claims.
Have someone take ownership
The head of any department or team, in all but the smallest personal injury businesses, will not have time to provide training properly. At best, they may be able to patch together some training from external sources which ‘ticks the boxes’.
The much better approach is to appoint someone internally who has the appropriate skills and experience, and delegate to them the design and implementation of a training programme.
By all means, have them work with another, perhaps more junior, member of the team or even a small training team, but that should be no more than two or three people.
That individual should be accountable for the implementation and delivery of the training and should liaise with the business leaders to make sure it is what they want. But provided they stick to the plan, they should be left to it.
Have a detailed plan
In my experience, training is all too often delivered on the basis of what is available and easy to provide, rather than what is really necessary. Whoever has taken ownership of the training issue should consult with the leaders of the team or department and agree an agenda for training.
This should extend to the scope of the training and specific issues. The training should then progress in a logical sequence and on a regular basis.
Training should be regular and delivered in short sessions
This all comes down to planning. My experience is that relatively short training sessions, say 30 to 40 minutes, delivered in most months of the year, are by far the most effective. There really is no point in having an external speaker pontificate for a full hour about some arcane issue that most of the audience will never have to deal with.
If people know that training is to be delivered in digestible chunks, spread across the year at regular intervals, they are far more likely to gain benefits from it and to actually listen and engage with what is being said.
Training is not an option!
We all know that changes in procedural and case law seem never-ending. There is a reason for that, which is that they are never-ending!
But the reality is that, if even one of your team is unaware of an important change – for example, relating to the Damage Claims Portal – then that can result in a negligence claim.
If the training is presented in an attractive and accessible manner, whilst at the same time it is politely but forcibly made clear that attendance is not optional, it will be something that people want to attend. It is important to have both a stick and carrot approach.
Make it relevant
In my past life, I attended several talks by learned counsel on esoteric issues, which at best, I would concede, were of some academic interest. However, I will also have forgotten the details about 10 minutes after the presentation, because the prospect of me ever needing them was virtually zero.
However, if someone talks to me about how to avoid the pitfalls of issuing a claim on the Damage Claims Portal, or recent developments regarding part 36, then I am all ears, because that matters to me, day in, day out.
That does not mean training has to be confined to those routine issues, and having a fresh look at case law we all think we know really well, like Smith v Manchester, can be of real benefit not just to our colleagues, but to our client because it will mean that we can negotiate better settlements.
I am not dictating what the contents of anyone’s training should be, but think about it, make a decision about what will help your team and your colleagues, and stick to those issues.
If training is working, you will often find that you get follow-up questions along the lines of “I’ve got a file where the issue you talked about last week has just cropped up”. Be prepared for criticism and praise. Maybe consider amending the presentation style and always be prepared to learn yourself.
Don’t throw it away!
Whoever takes ownership of training will, over the course of a year, spend many, many hours preparing. When presenting, it should be accessible – there is loads of guidance online about PowerPoint slides generally. My only contribution would be to resist the temptation to set out your training notes in full and then just read them out, which is incredibly boring.
The PowerPoint slides should be very brief, just restricted to bullet points, and then the notes, which sit behind the training, can be far more detailed.
Having spent all that time, make sure they are kept in an accessible place either online or physically because someone might well wish to consult them in six months’ time. This all gets away from the idea of training being a chore but an ongoing help and support to all of your team.
These are a few thoughts from someone who has been fortunate enough to be given the task of preparing and providing departmental training in a business where the value of it is recognised.
As I often say at the start of each training session, much of what I might say seems obvious and will be well known to the audience. If that is the case, it is remarkable how many businesses fail to hit the spot in terms of relevance and value.
Training can become a popular and really good habit for businesses to have. If anything I have said in this article encourages you to revisit your training programmes and recognise the real value they can deliver, then I have done my job for today.