At the core of all law practice is the basic premise of trading legal expertise in return for a fee. In the words of the UK Law Society, lawyers “represent a 'gold' standard in the provision of legal services, and members of the profession should strive to continuously improve the service they provide to their clients, rather than being content to provide a merely competent service.”
In the context of knowledge management for senior lawyers, junior lawyers, and paralegals, it is essential they update their legal skills throughout their careers to ensure that the advice they provide is legally accurate and reflects best practice.
The challenge for many busy legal professionals, though, is balancing a busy caseload with continuous professional development. In addition, many see professional development as a burden which they are obliged to undertake, not a flexible activity which can enhance their lives and careers.
In this article, we provide 6 innovative ways in which any legal professional can use ‘hacks’ to boost their ongoing legal knowledge and maintain competence, without demanding excessive time to do so.
In a nutshell, these are:
- Learn wisely
- Use online e-learning technologies
- Leverage automated alerts
- Go beyond attending courses
- Dive deeper into non-legal areas of knowledge
- Look for collaboration opportunities
When thinking about knowledge management for senior lawyers, there is no reason for continuing professional development (CPD) to take up vast amounts of your time (or even worse, waste your time). More important than attending a training course or completed an online learning session is that you have benefited from the content, understood it, and reflect on how you might use it.
To learn wisely, you need to be proactive and:
- Assess where you wish to be in a year from now
- Take the time to understand the gaps in your knowledge
- Create a clear CPD plan to achieve your learning objectives
- Find the best way to learn that fits with your learning style
- Focus on the learning session
- Document what you have learned
- Apply your learning as soon as possible
By taking these frequently forgotten steps, you can ensure that all of the training you undertake provides value (whatever that means for you), and make the most efficient use of your time.
Take for example learning the skill of legal project management. This is an area many lawyers are seeking to learn more about to enable them to tackle complex cases in a logical and effective manner.
Spending several days learning about project management only to forget the information – either because it wasn’t needed, wasn’t clearly understood, or wasn’t applied soon after learning it, would be an unwise use of your valuable time.
By ensuring this is a valuable skill for you to learn, and only spending the time you need to start applying the theory, you are using your time wisely and benefit your career in the process.
Another aspect to wise knowledge management for senior lawyers is leveraging the thoughts and ideas of experts in the legal field to further expand your knowledge. Make a point of reading some of the many blogs, articles, and opinions from established expert voices in your field;
Some notable sources include:
- http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/ and https://twitter.com/jackofkent
We recommend using smart strategies to ensure you can stay abreast of current opinion, but in a way which is manageable and realistic given your already busy schedule. One way to do this is to use websites which can summarise long-form content for you, such as https://smmry.com.
It is also important to carve out time to keep up to date; don’t feel you have to do this in your spare time or during your commute - book out some work time for professional development - after all this will benefit your employer and clients.
Use online e-learning technologies
There are many online learning services now available to make knowledge management for senior lawyers easy and efficient, including:
- Central Law Training – offer a comprehensive range of online legal training courses and webinars. These are aligned to the widely recognised law practitioner competence areas of ethics, technical legal practice, working with others, and working effectively.
- Future Learn – Future Learn goes beyond learning core legal principles to providing knowledge on cutting edge legal theories and ideas from some of the world’s best universities. In their own words, “from international law and forensic science to criminal justice and legal ethics: gain a better understanding of legal fields and process with our online law courses from the world's major universities.”
- Vinciworks - Learning management systems (LMS) such as Vinciworks are increasingly being implemented by law firms as a learning tool for all staff. LMS’s enable the easy creation of learning plans and the monitoring of learning compliance by staff members.
There are many more tools and solutions available to aid online learning; we recommend finding one or two which you find useful for your learning style and legal training needs.
Use automated alerts to keep up to date with the latest legal information
One of the simplest and most effective ways of keeping abreast of changes in the legal industry is to use Google Alerts. This free tool enables law professionals to create individual alerts which will notify them of any new content on areas of interest. Users can then be emailed immediately, daily, or weekly with a ‘feed’ of items of interest.
For example, if a lawyer is keen on knowing the latest GDPR prosecutions, they can create a new alert, set a region of interest (as they may only want to know of cases in their home country), which language, and the sources to consider (news, blogs, videos etc.).
A filter can also be used to see on the ‘best’ results to reduce the amount of content to be read.
Knowledge management for senior lawyers is far more than attending training courses
It is important to remember that as a law professional, you are not limited solely to attending training courses for development and learning.
There are many ways in which you can learn (and apply that learning) outside of the classroom, including:
- Workplace shadowing (i.e. working one on one with an existing specialist in the area of law you are interested in)
- Writing on law – perhaps you could volunteer to write a company blog on a subject you are new to
- Carrying out legal research
- Attending networking events
- Producing a dissertation
- Reading content written by legal professionals on Linkedin and other social media sources
- Listening to legal podcasts – such as, Legal Current, Happy Lawyer Happy Life, BBC Law in Action, Thinking Like a Lawyer, and The Digital Edge
Consider non-legal areas of knowledge
It is essential for senior Solicitors to also consider areas other than law in which they can expand their knowledge. Many developments now shaping the practice of law are coming from outside of the profession, and as such, the more you can add these to your existing expertise, the more prepared you will be to tackle the future challenges and opportunities you will face.
In addition to learning about the more traditional management skills of team motivation, communication, project management, finance, your time may be well served by looking at the following areas:
- Technology (including legal technology) - including data and predictive analytics, AI and machine learning, document automation, the Internet of Things, eDiscovery, and blockchain.
- Agile concepts - the world is shifting to an increasingly agile working model and understanding this will serve you and your team.
- Sales and marketing - learn about the latest inbound marketing methods, SEO, and A/B marketing testing.
- New business trends in legal practice - including innovative pricing models, legal design, legal process outsourcing, and alternative legal service delivery model.
- Legal design
Look for opportunities to collaborate with others
Professional development is becoming more of a collaborative endeavour. The internet now allows people who share the same interests to find each other and connect easily. Look at events on Meetup or Eventbrite to find others in your area from whom you can learn, and if such a group doesn’t exist, you can create one.
This idea even has a name, ‘Collaborative Professional Development’; the concept stating that people can improve their skills collectively by working together. In fact, the teaching profession already uses this approach. Teachmeet groups have evolved across the globe enabling teachers to meet in an informal manner to listen to or present presentations on any aspect of education.
This approach could be easily applied to the legal profession and be conducted online or even a relaxed out of office venue.
Evolution of Legal CPD
Overall, there are three themes which are driving the next evolution of legal CPD (continuing professional development)
Technology and the explosion of online expert legal content
Legal knowledge management and professional development are expanding with the evolution of technology. In the Internet-driven economy, there is no lack of information available at the touch of a finger-tip. YouTube videos provide a wealth of expertise at no cost, and this is available 24-7.
One of the challenges this poses, however, is that law professionals need to become more discerning about the quality and quantity of learning content they consume.
It is for this reason that a clear professional development plan is essential as it reminds the learner of their objectives, and what they need to do to achieve them.
Demand for career empowerment and agile working
As employees demand increased agility in their roles, it is important they have greater options and choice over their own professional development too. If one person prefers to attend a training course while another wishes to network, or carry out research, this should be highly encouraged.
Greater opportunities for collaboration
This offers an effective and rewarding way for law professionals to learn. By being part of a learning community, we can absorb the knowledge we need but also give back our expertise. In this way, learning is a two-way process.
Ultimately, as legal professionals, we never stop learning. Once we have mastered one concept, it is often outdated and replaced with another, and the learning process starts over again.
By adopting new ways to make learning meet the needs of individuals through the life of their career, law firms can empower and motivate their valued employees to be their best. After all, it isn’t called a legal practice for nothing.