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August 10, 2021

The Hidden Cost of Legal Training

If you’re considering legal training for your new associates, you likely already understand that investing in human capital can be one of the best ways to boost engagement, combat turnover, and get your associates billing faster. According to JD Match and Right Profile, the top 400 law firms lose about $9.1 billion annually due to turnover—with an approximate cost to a firm of $400k to $800k each time an associate leaves the firm. On top of the financial costs, high turnover rates can also harm your firm’s reputation, undermine morale, and force senior lawyers (or even partners) to swarm in and pick up associate-level work. 

But with so many different training philosophies out there, how do you pick the right one to ensure you maximize the return on your resources? In this blog, we’ll outline the hidden cost of legal training so you understand how to allocate your dollars and reap the rewards of your investment. 

Typical Online Training

Legal firms will typically purchase online video training programs for their associates. This can be an inexpensive route to take, with a cost per associate of approximately $500-$1k. The main benefit of online training is that it’s supposed to put associates in the driver’s seat of their own learning. Since they aren’t required to be on-site for online training, associates have easier access to the training resources. They can also oftentimes determine their own schedule and pace. Unfortunately, unless your associates are self-motivated or required to complete the online modules by set deadlines, most of these training programs go unused and end up being a waste of resources for the firm.  

Even if utilized, far too many online training programs don’t fully work because they rely on passive learning. This method of learning is typically one-way, with students receiving information but no feedback. Common examples include reading materials, lectures, presentations, and videos. Education science research tells us that learning retention levels increase significantly the more active the methods: we retain 10% of what we learn from reading, 30-50% from watching lecture/explainer videos, 70% from participating in small interactive workshops, and 90% from doing either real or simulated assignments. Due to low retention and engagement rates from online learning, most firms understand that this method is best used as just one aspect of their entire training program. But what other resources can you supplement online learning with? 

Internal Training

Your firm probably has skilled senior leaders, so it’s not unusual to consider turning inward and create your own training. Before you make that leap, however, you should be aware of a couple of crucial aspects. First, consider the time and energy it will take to create training resources internally. If your senior leaders are the ones holding the valuable knowledge you want to communicate to your associates, do they have the extra bandwidth to put together the course materials, presentations, or videos? And to consistently execute the training throughout the firm? On top of that, when it comes time to update your training, will your senior leaders have the time to do so? In all likelihood, your senior lawyers will have to forgo billable hours and time they could have spent on client development to create the course materials as well as run the training program. 


Training seminars are another way firms try to encourage learning and development for their associates. They simply consist of a group of people coming together to learn specific topics, and will typically have keynote speakers that are experts in their respective fields. Pre-covid, seminars required time away from work, resulting in a loss of billable hours. They could also be costly, racking up admission, travel, food, and hotel expenses. Although the pandemic has made in-person seminars largely unfeasible due to health and safety measures, many seminars have taken their services online, resulting in some reduced expenses. Regardless of if and when seminars will return to in-person or remain online, both forms of training are time-intensive, with no guarantee that the speakers or discussions will be informative. 

Learning on the Job

With so many ineffective training methods out there, you might be thinking that your associates should simply learn the old fashion way—on the job. After all, isn’t it effective to learn by doing? Not exactly. 

In our increasingly competitive legal environment, the last thing you want is for an associate to be spinning their wheels on something for ten hours when it should have only taken them two hours. Billing your client for those hours would be unethical, and the liability of a mistake could risk the firm losing a client. That means you then have to write that time-off, correct the mistakes, and forgo your own billable hours to spend time mentoring your junior associate and ensuring they learn from their mistakes. 

With these possible missteps in mind, it’s now time to discuss how firms can create successful training programs that help their associates bridge the gap between law school and practice. 

Experiential Learning

It has long been posited that we retain the most information through “experiential learning,” which is engaging in practical, hands-on experience in a real-life context. Experiential learning consists of three key components:

  1. showing, not telling;
  2. allowing associates to practice what they have been shown; and
  3. providing concrete, individualized feedback.

Experiential learning not only helps us retain more information through firsthand experience but also empowers us to better use and apply that knowledge in other contexts. In the legal setting, where associates are constantly dealing with new scenarios, this transferability of skills is invaluable. Training is ultimately useless if your associates fail to apply what they’ve learned to real assignments, which is why the top training programs simulate real work experience and allow associates to apply their knowledge in a safer environment. This can take shape in using mock transactions from past deals. 

Start incorporating experiential learning into your program by using micro-learning, a training approach that delivers information in small, digestible chunks. The National Training Laboratories states that long sessions of passive learning—such as sitting through a two-hour PowerPoint training—average less than 30% retention. In contrast, brief micro-sessions that build over time using active and multiple methods of training average up to 90%. Try breaking up mock tasks into smaller sections and assign time guidelines so your associates know how much time a task typically takes but don’t have to worry about time running out. These smaller bursts of training also allow your employees to easily pick up their training without needing to set aside hours of their busy schedules. 

You should also consistently measure the effectiveness of your training program. Training effectiveness can be defined in a couple of ways; it is both a measure of the degree to which learning has improved your associates’ performances and a measure of the return on your investment in them. Measuring training effectiveness can involve a combination of surveys to collect feedback on the training performance, assessment scores from before, during, and after training, job or key performance indicators, and much more. Regardless of your methods, be sure to establish clear metrics and consistent ways of measuring those metrics. 

Ultimately, by investing and staying on top of your training, your associates will understand that you’re investing in them, which in turn motivates them to focus during the day-to-day grind, stay with your firm, and make long-term contributions. 

Want to avoid the hidden cost of legal training? 

Firms such as K&L Gates, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, Barnes & Thornburg, and Husch Blackwell turn to AltaClaro for the most effective training programs on the market.

Our online boot camps help lawyers leverage technology and learn practical legal skills in a hybrid format through mock transactions and live feedback sessions with seasoned practitioners. From Fundamentals of M&A Transactions and Corporate Transactions to Capital Markets, our course catalog spans beginner to intermediate level classes. Our state-of-the-art learning technology platform also helps you measure and track training engagement and performance so you can increase retention and engagement. 

Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our experts and learn how you can empower your associates to hit the ground running.


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About the author

Abdi Shayesteh

Founder & CEO of AltaClaro, an experiential learning platform that delivers researched-backed practical skills training solutions for lawyers. Serial entrepreneur, founded and successfully sold two startups prior to age 30. Over 15 years of experience as a corporate and banking attorney in diverse settings.