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October 12, 2023

The Quickstart Guide to Designing the Ultimate Training Pathways for Your Transactional Associates

As you’re ramping up your newly arrived first-year transactional associates and upskilling your second and third-years, designing  effective 12-month training pathways that align with your firm’s needs is most likely top of mind right now. In this quickstart guide, we share everything you need to know to design training pathways that will  have  your associates hit the ground running this year and beyond! 

1. Training Cirricula

The first step in your planning efforts is to map  out key substantive competencies areas to your training curricula. What are the key skills and  tasks that your practice group leaders expect from your associates during their first three years of practice? What are the types of assignments they will likely encounter and have to master in order to progress to the next level? 

While the results from this inquiry will vary by firm size and/or practice group, it's important to start out with the end in mind so your training objectives are aligned with the firm/practice group leader’s expectations. Equally important, your associates will be able to hit the ground running this year (and beyond) and build up their confidence levels as they start contributing to deal teams and receiving positive feedback from their work product. 

Below are some strategies you can leverage when designing your training curricula:

Mastering the Basics, Overviews, and Deal Mechanics

There are certain general or foundational skills, tasks and assignments that any transactional associate should master immediately, regardless of whether the firm assigns them to a specialty transactional practice group upon their arrival or later during their second or third year of practice. Example training courses typically include, drafting and negotiating contracts, forming corporations and other entities, transactional due diligence and disclosure schedules, and preparing closing checklists.  

Depending on the relevant transactional practice areas of the firm, first-year associates should also master tasks and assignments related to the specialty practice areas they may be assigned to (or supporting as a generalist) during their first year. Examples typically include overview and deal mechanics courses in M&A, Real Estate, Lending/Finance, Capital Markets, and Technology Transactions. These courses typically cover understanding key terms, terminology, players, structures, typical documents, deal stages and key tasks a junior associate needs to master when supporting deal teams within each of these specialty practice areas.

Example:

The Deeper Dives and Drafting Core Agreements  

With the foundational courses out of the way,, it’s time to take their training to another level by offering more in depth training programs, as well as courses that cover drafting and negotiating core documents and agreements.. Similar to our approach above, there are certain skills, tasks, and assignments that a transactional associate should master regardless of their specialty area. There are also more specialized deeper dives and drafting courses, depending on their relevance. The illustration below is an example of what this could look like:

 

2. Training Cadence 

Next, you’ll need to decide on your training schedule. This may also depend on the firm and practice group, and, in particular, a practice group leader’s expectations. One practice group may want to accelerate the training and have their associates go through all  of the foundational and deep dive training courses as quickly as possible. Another practice group may want to spread out the training over a longer period. Regardless of the approach, however, it’s important to note that the ability to effectively accelerate the training is tied to the format of the training. As further discussed below, associates need context to effectively learn the practical and substantive skills they need to tackle real work assignments. Having them go through hours of lectures or videos on various topics will not be effective, but having them apply their new knowledge to mock assignments with feedback will be effective as it will provide them with context in their learning journey.

Typically, for first year associates, the first 3-4 months are ideal to get in as much training as possible, as they are typically sitting idle and have not been assigned work yet. Thereafter, training should continue, but the pace should align with the fact that they will have to juggle real client work with the training demands. 

One approach could be to tackle all or a portion of the foundational set of training courses at an intensive schedule- e.g., one course per day or week shortly after the associates arrive with a pause before December. The timing here is also aligned with having the associate practice-ready with these skills before the end of the year, which is typically the busiest time for deal lawyers. 

Once the associates are up and running and juggling real client work, the ideal pace is more spread out at one course per every two to three weeks, giving them time to balance training with work. Regardless of the cadence, it’s important that the firm and relevant practice groups allot the time for associates to juggle training and other priorities expected of them.

 

3. Training Format

You’ll also need to decide on your training format, such as whether to run the training in-person or remote (or both), and by someone within the firm or an outside provider (or both). 

While in-person training can foster a more immersive learning experience and allow associates to ask questions for immediate clarification, remote training has its own benefits. Associates can access training materials from anywhere and learn at their own pace. Some law firms strike a balance by implementing a hybrid virtual model, providing flexibility to their associates while also leveraging the benefits of direct interaction through online collaboration tools. 

In addition, you’ll want to decide the format of the instruction, exercises, and evaluations. While videos may have some benefits, relying on them to provide associates with the necessary knowledge of transactional practice areas and legal concepts isn’t the best method. Imagine learning how to ride a bike solely by watching videos! This is where meaningful exercises come in. Again, merely running issue-spotting workshops to teach people how to properly swim wouldn’t yield the desired results because people need to engage with realistic work to develop skills. However, you can’t train your associates on real client work or on the client’s dime (as that would get expensive), highlighting the need for practical simulation exercises and tailored feedback that guides their critical thinking and application of what they’ve been learning. 

A quick note on “critical thinking.” One of the key learning objectives for any training during these formidable years is to help associates gain the critical thinking skills they need to take on any real-world assignment that comes their way. Ideally, in addition to the importance of making the training experiential, the training should have nonlinear training elements. For example, the practical simulation exercises should be imperfect in substance and form. Just like real-world clients, there should be missing facts, loopholes, and gray areas, as if drafting and editing documents for a client. The idea of frustrating them in a safe and simulated environment will go a long way in building muscles for the real world.

 

4. Partner Involvement 

Ensuring partner endorsement in the program is a crucial next step because it sets the tone at the top and establishes the importance of training. Partner involvement in training is also important and should be clearly defined upfront. Will partners help create and/or run any of the training? And what knowledge and skills do they expect the associates to gain from the specific training course(s)? 

Defining these upfront helps the firm avoid having the partners step in later to properly do associate-level tasks. Unfortunately, this is an all too common issue that many partners are experiencing, due to a crisis of undertrained junior associates, making it all the more urgent to invest now in training. There is no doubt, however, that partners care and want their associates trained. The issues typically surround time commitment and managing unpredictable or urgent client demands. So, the key is to engage partners in the most efficient and effective way to support and bolster your training programs.

 

5. Associate Expectations

Just as it’s important to clarify what is expected from partners, so is establishing expectations for associates regarding the skills, knowledge, and understanding they should gain from the training. Most importantly, they should understand that training is a requirement to succeed as a lawyer (whether self-imposed or by the firm). The training program should clearly define what qualifies as a “win” within the firm for an associate’s first 60-90 days and each year their professional development journey. Mapping out the firm or practice group’s substantive competency expectations with an associate’s performance evaluation and conducting regular evaluations can help ensure associates are on track, as well as these three crucial tips to get them off on the right foot.

 

6. Training Solutions 

Oftentimes, firms choose to partner with an outside provider to augment their training needs. While this can be a powerful and efficient strategy, it’s important to assess and select the most effective complement to your internal programs. Although it’s a common “technique,” plopping associates down in front of training videos offered by most outside providers won’t help them develop the practical skills they need to, say, form corporate entities, conduct due diligence, or prepare disclosure schedules. Who knows if they’ll even finish watching the videos or pay attention. Trying to recruit senior lawyers to teach the basics also isn’t cost-effective. So what is the best training solution?

As a junior associate, there’s nothing more valuable than jumping into a real-world scenario and getting feedback on their work. AltaClaro’s training programs teach junior associates the fundamentals from ground zero, helping them learn practical legal skills in a hybrid format and letting senior partners take on training the tougher skills. All courses are based on our three-pillar experiential learning methodology — Learn, Do, and Review: 

  • Learn: This stage covers a broad range of legal topics through easy-to-understand video lectures and quizzes, ensuring participants actively engage and comprehend the underlying concepts.
  • Do: Here, participants apply their knowledge to real-world assignments via simulation exercises. These intentionally imperfect exercises are designed to foster critical thinking and decision-making skills as participants navigate missing facts, loopholes, and gray areas, as if drafting and editing documents for a client.
  • Review: In this stage, AltaClaro’s highly vetted, seasoned practitioners review participants’ assignments and lead tailored live review sessions, encouraging reflection and deeper comprehension. The format diverges from traditional lectures, focusing instead on individual performance and accommodating diverse levels of understanding.


Transform Your Fall Training with AltaClaro

There’s a reason why firms such as K&L Gates, Holland & Knight, Orrick, Allen & Overy, and Ropes & Gray trust AltaClaro for their legal skills training.

With AltaClaro, you can get your associates billing sooner, increase training retention and engagement, and save on resources used for legal skills training. 

Interested? Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our experts to discuss learning pathways for your fall associates. 

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