The way we train lawyers in the United Kingdom is undergoing dramatic changes. Apprenticeships offer new routes of entry into the profession, and there’s been a major shake-up in the way Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is monitored (goodbye annual hours monitoring, hello competency measurement). Changes are also happening in the United States, with technological competency being identified by the American Bar Association as a required skill.
As a result, legal technology training is being recognised as a vital and integral part of legal education. Let’s look into the evolution of the technical competence framework and the way this fits with the changing world of legal education.
Evolving Requirements in an Evolving Profession
The traditional format for CPD is for lawyers to obtain a minimum number of educational hours each year. Having run training sessions myself, I can attest to a number of people just being physically present “for the points,” regarding training as a tick-box exercise. Unfortunately, this attitude can mean a lot of missed opportunities for real growth.
The England and Wales organization overseeing the legal profession is the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA), and it is doing away with the current CPD approach. The new focus of both regulation and education is on demonstrating successful outcomes and competencies. In other words, it is not enough to attend training—you need to demonstrate that you have absorbed the information and can show your competency is above a certain level.
As the SRA’s approach changes, so are the demands of clients around the world, who are no longer accepting inefficient ways of working in a technically advanced space. One of the best-known champions of this movement is Casey Flaherty, formerly in-house counsel at Kia Motors and currently the driving force behind an organization offering online legal technology audits.
Casey developed his premise while at Kia, where he subjected Kia’s external legal panel to tests he designed to check their basic competence in core tools such as Word and Excel. If the designated individuals from law firms passed the tests, Casey continued to pay their bills; if they didn’t, he looked for (and received) a cut in rates to reflect their inefficient ways of working. Casey’s approach has since been adopted by a number of in-house counsel who see a double whammy advantage in both reducing their bills and improving the quality of service they receive.
Measuring and Validating Lawyers’ Learning
Casey’s audit is all very well, but it is largely a spot check—not a mechanism for setting and delivering training in this new, competency-based world. That is where LTC4 comes in. LTC4, where I’m a member of the emerging e-disclosure “Pod,” is a not-for-profit group that brings together over 100 law firms and training organizations from around the world.
Theirs is a two-pronged approach. First, competency standards in specific areas of legal technology expertise are developed by working parties from within the LTC4 membership. These standards are then assessed by a separate group before being declared fit for purpose. As a current example, our group is nearly finished with a draft of e-disclosure competencies. It’s close to entering the process of peer group review before final sign-off. Once agreed, the competency standard is available for LTC4 members to use to develop both training and testing.
How these are accomplished is up to each individual organization. A law firm might, for example, design an internal syllabus, then devise and implement training with associated testing via the most appropriate means for their own staff.
At this point the second strand of the LTC4 approach kicks in: a discrete certification process. Whatever their approach—whether it’s online learning, classroom trainings, or something entirely different—law firms and vendor members can submit their training design for accreditation. If approved, they are able to offer an LTC4 certification in that particular competency to the individuals that complete their courses. In this way, organizations retain flexibility to deliver training and testing in a way that suits their individual circumstances, but the outcome is an objective measure of competency for the individual learner, their firm, and, ultimately, for clients who purchase their services.
The Bright Side for e-Disclosure
So what has this got to do with e-disclosure? The short answer is that it is one of the target subjects for development at LTC4. A number of law firms, training organizations, and vendors have already expressed interest in developing accredited training once the competency standard is complete. There’s high demand for clearer competency standards and educational guidance in this space, and that means lawyers are ready to dig more deeply into the strategy behind e-disclosure.
Aside from meeting a demand in the market, programs like these offer lawyers a robust framework to help them develop a benchmark and demonstrate their skills. They can prove that they’re keeping up with the evolution of the space, to themselves as well as their clients and colleagues. For clients, there is the added assurance that their lawyers are working as effectively and efficiently as possible on their e-disclosure projects.