When it comes to professional development, the future is hybrid

Guest blog by Fiona Fitzgerald, chief executive of Radcliffe Chambers

Fitzgerald: Webinars aimed at students too

Cast your mind back to 2019. You are in a busy conference room, catching up with colleagues after an informative seminar on the latest in litigation trends. You have a glass of wine in your hand and your eye on a plate of canapes a couple of tables away. Your bag is heavy with fact-packed handouts…

Miss it?

I do, but many do not. We have webinars now. We can watch them at home, on demand, as often or as infrequently as we like. We have knowledge on tap. Or do we?

When I talk to our clients about Covid, their most common concern is not always financial. What is really worrying law firms, whatever their size, is how best to help their lawyers develop the skills they need in a remote working environment.

The Bar faces the same challenges. How can we make sure that our juniors do not lose out during lockdown? Webinars abound, but can they train someone to win new business, build a relationship or deal with a difficult situation?

The Bar has always played a role in providing continuing professional development. Seminars and conferences are an important part of chambers’ marketing strategies, of course, but they are also a way of making a contribution to the legal profession.

For example, at Radcliffe Chambers we have a longstanding junior programme, aimed at recently qualified solicitors, which combines hot-topic seminars with social events. It enables our juniors to build lifelong relationships with counterparts at client firms, but it also helps our clients by providing ongoing education to their associates, along with an opportunity to practise their networking skills.

I was proud to see how quickly the legal profession, including the Bar, responded to lockdown by pivoting towards online events. Many chambers, including my own, were offering webinars within weeks. It has been hugely important to stay connected and share thought leadership at this time.

Webinars have proved a wonderfully inclusive medium. Often our webinars were attended by several hundred people and viewed by many more on YouTube subsequently. It does not matter where you are based. We can provide the same level of online training to lawyers in Lincoln’s Inn, Manchester or Bermuda.

It does not matter if you need to tune in later during a break from home-schooling. Webinars are available on demand. It does not even matter whether you are currently working as a lawyer. We made a conscious decision, early on, to make sure our content could be viewed by students, whose access to legal experience has been severely limited by Covid. We would not have the space to do this at a physical event.

At Radcliffe, we do not want to lose these benefits. It has been a privilege to be able to further our commitment to inclusion through our marketing programme.

Having said that, we won’t be going down the online-only route. Webinars are fantastic for sharing legal knowledge but they just don’t provide the same opportunities for networking and building relationships, or for juniors to learn those fundamental skills. Online networking is important, of course, and a critical skill to develop as well, but nothing really compares to face-to-face meetings.

So, when the vaccine takes effect and lockdown restrictions are lifted, we at Radcliffe will dust off our travel bags, and go out to meet and present to our clients in the markets in which they operate. We will return to providing a varied programme of physical events, but I expect that we will mix in a number of online events too.

We are also planning to livestream the majority of our seminars that do take place in person, so that the same broad audience is able to benefit. We hope, in this way, to achieve the best of both worlds.

The future is hybrid.

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