This Law Firm Requires 20 Hours of Learning a Year for all Assistants. Here Are the Results.

August 25, 2017

Goodmans LLP – one of the biggest law firms in Canada – has seen great results from mandating learning to their employees via their learning and development department.

Few organizations have a more rigorous learning culture than Goodmans LLP, one of Canada’s top law firms.

Yes, the 200+ legal professionals at the firm are always gaining new certifications and mastering new laws – that’s part of practicing law. But the firm holds its 230+ legal assistants and support staff to that same learning standard.

All 130+ legal assistants at Goodmans are required to complete at least 20 learning credits or learning hours annually. The support staff is required to complete at least 12 hours this year.

But it’s more than just time. The legal assistants complete challenges around software they are expected to master – Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Word, etc. – that tests how efficient they are with it.

“It’s really about making legal assistants and support staff as efficient and effective in their roles as they can be,” said Joanne Friedman, Goodmans LLP’s Learning and Development Specialist.

The learning credits, labs and challenges are all part of Goodmans’ “GoodPeople Program.” By the end of 2018, all legal assistants are expected to complete three of these challenges, which in turn will credit them with a Goodmans Certification in each of the required applications.

What Goodmans’ GoodPeople Program looks like

Goodmans’ GoodPeople Program began three years ago and has evolved over that time.

The first year, the program was voluntary and composed only of in-person training sessions led by Friedman. Of the 130 legal assistants, 100 hit the goal of completing 12 learning hours that year.

The second year, Goodmans decided to mandate that all legal assistants complete at least 12 hours of training. Why mandate training? According to Friedman: “We wanted our legal assistants to realize that the courses we were offering benefited them in the long run – this enables them to work smarter, not harder. They have to see for themselves that ongoing learning and development is key to the success of any great legal assistant.”

The third year, the program became more robust. Goodmans purchased a subscription to Lynda.com for the legal assistants so they could learn on their own time. Legal assistants – who are part of the support staff – were required to complete an additional eight hours of learning a year, bringing the total to 20 hours per year. Labs and challenges were introduced to test people’s retention of their training.

“During our second year, we identified the need to measure their knowledge retention. Labs and challenges were created and introduced this year,” Friedman said. “Now when they attend a session, they are more engaged and excited about testing their newfound knowledge and applying it to their daily work.”

It’s worth noting that, yes, all legal assistants are required to complete 20 hours of learning each year, but only 12 of those hours need to be focused on application specific technical training. The remaining eight hours are focused on health and wellness, life skills and soft skills to ensure the support staff is excited about learning.

How does Goodmans accommodate that? Well, the Lynda.com subscription offers courses on everything from effective communication to how to play the guitar. Additionally, Friedman holds in-person trainings featuring personal trainers, money managers and dieticians (among others) on physical and mental health, communication and leadership skills and financial wellness.

“You want to learn to play the guitar? Awesome! Lynda.com has a course just for that!” Friedman said. “It’s all about bettering yourself and that’s what we care about – the program is about nurturing the desire to learn!”

Along with the online and in-person courses, there are labs where legal assistants complete a variety of tasks within Word, Outlook and other essential software. Each lab takes knowledge that they learned through classroom courses, e-learning or Lynda.com and applies that knowledge to skills they need to know to complete on a day to day basis. Once they feel comfortable and knowledgeable on an application, the legal assistants take the next step: the challenge for that software.

These challenges test the legal assistant’s knowledge on the software by having them complete a variety of tasks. All legal assistants are expected to pass the challenges in Outlook, Word and at least one other software by the end of 2018. By successfully completing all labs and the challenge, the legal assistant becomes “Goodmans Certified” in that particular application.

Originally, when the support staff found out about these challenges, they were concerned that they would not have the knowledge or enough time to complete them. “That’s not the case or the point,” Friedman said. “No one can fail a challenge. And even if they were to complete a subpar challenge, they’d simply receive feedback and try again. It’s about opening the lines of communication between legal assistants and trainers so we can have meaningful conversations about training and areas of improvement.”

“This program is about helping our legal assistants develop the necessary skills they need to succeed in their job. Once they realized this, their attitude toward the training changed,” Friedman said.

“I was originally concerned about being able to complete 20 hours of learning and now I have almost doubled that number,” said Angela Embree, a legal assistant at Goodmans.

“I have people come up to me all the time and ask about the next training session or when the next lab will be released. We have some legal assistants who have already earned more than 40 learning credits, and we are only halfway through the year. It’s pretty unbelievable when you think about it,” Friedman said.

How this fits in with Goodmans’ culture

The firm is incredibly proud of its culture - one that instills hard work and fun. The work/life balance is ever present and the GoodPeople Program promotes learning in an environment that focuses on just that.

Bottom line, Goodmans LLP has a robust, rigorous learning culture. It not only ensures that legal assistants learn the skills they need to excel at their job but inspires them to learn new skills as well.

“We have given our legal assistants the means and the venues to learn whatever they want, whenever they want,” Friedman said. “And we want them to know that we are proud of their ongoing commitment to learning.”

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