Shirin Tang (L), Timothy W. Blakely, Martin Hill, Jo McAlpine

With the COVID-19 pandemic moving meetings and job interviews online, it is no surprise that professional development has also adapted to meet these uncharted times.

ALB: What does professional development look like at your firm during COVID-19?

SHIRIN TANG, managing partner, Singapore, and TIMOTHY W. BLAKELY, managing partner, Hong Kong, Morrison & Foerster

At Morrison & Foerster, we take a broad view of professional training and development, seeking to provide our lawyers with the tools and guidance they need to thrive at all stages of their careers. This means not just offering traditional substantive legal training sessions, but also providing mentoring, diversity and inclusion programmes, coaching, and a variety of other programmes for career enhancement. The COVID pandemic forced us to get creative about both the ways we deliver our programmes, and the kinds of programs that were necessary to best support our attorneys. We rede-signed a number of our training programmes (including those for our summer interns) to be delivered remotely over platforms like Zoom. In doing so, we explored ways of keeping attendee engagement high – it’s more challenging for people to stay fully engaged when they are alone, rather than in a room full of people, so we integrated technologies like Kahoot, a learning game that allows people to participate in fun, quick quizzes, whether on the actual subject matter of the session or on ice-breaker questions to build community. We also spent a lot of time thinking about wellness and ways to support our attorneys who were working at home, managing the stress of the pandemic and, in many cases, also caring for family members and supervising children in remote schooling. We provided a series of webinars on working at home with children (with different sessions depending on the children’s ages), coping with isolation, and other topics. We even had a master storyteller entertain us with classic stories during several webinars for families. Some of our offices are still fully remote, but others have reopened for in-person work.

As more of our offices move to reopen, we will carry with us the lessons we learned during the pandemic: that being creative and flexible in how we deliver training and development programmes – moving beyond the traditional “instructor in the room” or “watch a videotape” formats – can in many cases result in better programming, reaching more people, and providing more connection and opportunity for customisation of learning.

MARTIN HILL, global head of learning and development, Freshfields

With many people working from home due to the pandemic, face-to-face training was almost impossible for many parts of the firm at various stages of 2020 (and, in some markets, remains a challenge today). At relatively short notice, the firm’s Learning & Development (L&D) team had to move all training online and by late 2020, over 100 courses delivered online, covering 19 different topics.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the transition to “WFH” and online-only learning, we saw very high demand, and many courses were oversubscribed, with 51 percent of courses having a waitlist. Globally, the team was delivering up to 13 courses a week. We took advantage of the “new normal” delivery mechanism to break down some of the boundaries of geographical distance and time zones that might have applied to in-person training, thereby turning a potential disadvantage into an advantage.

Overall, this was very well received. One training participant commented that “the chance to exchange thoughts and ideas with colleagues who have different cultures and attitudes makes our network valuable.” The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of L&D and we were pleased with what we were able to achieve, including how quickly our people adapted.

Going forward, as COVID-related restrictions start to be relaxed, we are working on syncretizing virtual and in-person training to hopefully give ourselves the “best of both worlds.” Virtual and blended (a mix of virtual and traditional classroom training) will feature prominently. While virtual training will not replace face-to-face training – we still see advantages in enabling people able to network and collaborate in person – we will certainly apply what we learned last year in order to preserve the benefits of the virtual training capabilities we developed.

JO McALPINE, head of talent and capability, King & Wood Mallesons

For our lawyers, professional development captures many different elements – technical expertise, business skills, mindsets and behaviour – so that our people develop a breadth and depth of legal expertise, are commercial in the way they work with our clients and have the qualities required to lead or participate in diverse, collaborative and effective teams. Technical development includes legal ethics, substantive law, practice and risk management and professional legal skills. Other development includes formal sessions and informal support materials to develop leadership capabilities (including wellbeing for self and others) and business skills such as project management, clear communication, networking, delegation and implementing a growth mindset. Development offerings are available “live” (face-to-face or via webinar) or in digital formats (recorded content, podcasts, e-learns, etc.) and are offered broadly to all lawyers, or to specific teams at local, team or cohort levels. We engage a range of internal experts and external consultants with deep technical expertise to support the learning of our people in both technical and non-technical areas. COVID-19 was a catalyst for accelerating our use of technology from a learning and development perspective. In Australia, firmwide technical development sessions were delivered via Webex, which proved both inclusive and time-efficient. We adopted collaborative digital tools such as breakout rooms, the chat functionality and Mentimeter (anonymous polling and questioning) to promote discussion and engagement. For our graduates in Australia, last year’s LegalTech Bootcamps were delivered in-person before pivoting to digital. 190 graduates participated in a week-long learning experience. Sessions were focused on uplifting digital literacy and the application of skills across different LegalTech tools. In China, the successful education programme – the KWM Academy – was seamlessly delivered online.


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