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Best Way to Onboard Lateral and New Associates with KM Resources

By Caroline Sweeney posted 01-05-2022 14:53

Please enjoy this blog post co-authored by Shefali Lakhani, Knowledge Management Lawyer, Proskauer and Caroline Sweeney, Director of Knowledge Management & Innovation, Dorsey & Whitney.

COVID continues to have a lasting impact on the legal market. Not only has it accelerated the use and adoption and of technology, but it’s also affected job opportunities, hiring, and retention. As associates are snatching opportunities to move to their dreams jobs, to firms with better work life balance, and to other new opportunities, firms are experiencing a large influx and outflux of associates. As new members join the firm, they need to be trained on, among other things, the practice technology resources of the firm. Associates may be inundated with work as soon as they start their new roles, so it can often be challenging to find the best way to familiarize them with the available and relevant tools and knowledge management resources. If associates come from firms with a lesser emphasis on technology and knowledge management, it can also be challenging to convey the benefits of spending time to use the technology to assist with day to day work and further process and workflow improvement.   

The initial on-boarding process of the new lateral associates or staff is a good time to include an introduction to Knowledge Management resources at the firm. First, the lateral associates may not yet be fully staffed on matters during the on-boarding process. Importantly, introduction of Knowledge Management and Practice Technology resources during on-boarding helps to convey firm culture regarding KM, innovation, and legal technology.  Including the relevant resources and a meeting with a member of the KM team on the on-boarding schedule for new attorney ensures that the new attorneys have been provided with consistent messaging and appropriate content.  For example, a review of the internal intranet and its resources is critical for all new attorneys.  It’s also important to tailor education to various tools used within the practice area to which they are assigned, customizing to some extent, their on-boarding to those tools that are most likely to matter to them. For example, tools related to due diligence contract analysis would be most beneficial to laterals in the M&A group. During these initial meetings, let new associates know that the Knowledge Management team is available to answer questions and provide additional trainings as specific work related use cases arise.

To share the content, a variety of formats may be necessary!  For initial meetings, however, zoom trainings – with cameras on! – are helpful to establishing a personal connection and welcoming the new hire to the firm. Establishing personal connections is valuable not only to the new attorney, as they may need to ask follow up questions or request additional resources and information, but also to the Knowledge Management team, as it allows the KM team to find champions and advocates for their new initiatives and projects, as well as users from which to collect feedback. 

The initial training sessions can serve as an introduction to the intranet and cover, at a high level, the tools available to the new associates or staff.  It may also be helpful to send out a welcome email for the new attorney or staff with similar information, so they have that on hand for later reference. When it comes to actual training on the practice technology, there are a number of methods that may be successful: case-specific training, 1:1 training, and some classroom-style zoom training.  This is often dictated by the attorney’s preference. One other useful training technique is to reply all to the “Pardon the Interruption” emails with an example of how to find the information they are seeking and invite people to contact the Knowledge Management team for further information or training. This is a powerful way to teach people about the functionality of different tools.  What’s more – this approach can lead to invitations to present at various practice group meetings, an additional platform to educate on KM resources and the benefits on using technology for process and workflow improvement and data collection.

Another useful practice for the Knowledge Management team is to productize the training and information regularly presented during these sessions (and other one-off use cases), the way that certain practices and workflows are productized through, for example, document automation and fifty state surveys. Productizing trainings may include building quick, short “how do I” on-demand training videos for case specific tasks or step-by-step “how-to” guides to be sent out to attorneys and staff either after trainings, in a welcome email, or through regular newsletters. That way, anyone using the tool can have quick access to information and tutorials at any time.

In addition to sharing the actual technology and its functionality, it’s also important to share the immediate and longer term benefits. One highly effective approach is to conduct quarterly internal education sessions featuring a panel of attorneys speaking about the value of knowledge management technologies they have used – or helped to develop.  Clients may also present during these sessions! They can share valuable insights to client expectations and wants and how they’ve benefited from the technology. In addition, hearing what their peers are using and what clients are looking for can be a powerful training tool! It’s also valuable to have partner and senior level buy in for the practice technology and knowledge management resources. A push from senior associates and partners to use the practice technology, especially in the context of a deal or litigation signals the value and importance of such technology to more junior and newer associates. Seeing these attorneys present during internal education sessions and panels can also signal the importance of technology and the firm’s culture regarding knowledge management and innovation.

Knowledge management is one part of the changing landscape, and the growing push and interest in legal technology and innovation in the industry. Many firms have entire trainings geared towards these subjects, as well as the “soft skills” necessary to succeed in the changing legal industry. Once example of such training may include collaboration sessions with the marketing teams to highlight for attorneys what clients are asking for and expecting in RFPs when it comes to technology and innovation. Being able to understand and articulate this to clients is a critical skill! Technology and innovation have become differentiators for firms. Many firms are also focusing on providing continuing education and training on other important skills, such as design thinking, data analytics and visualization, and project management.

Whether dealing with your in-coming new associate class or lateral attorneys joining your firm, it is critical to ensure they are made aware of the knowledge management tools and resources available to them.  These tools are critical to their practice, and they need to be made aware of them as part of the on-boarding process.  And, as with all education, finding multiple ways to engage with attorneys to train them on the available resources is also important.  As knowledge management professionals, it’s what we do!