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August 10, 2021

The Ultimate Guide to Training Your Transactional Lawyers

In the last few years, experiential learning has generated buzz among the legal community when it comes to training new associates. Just as a new surgeon would never enter the operating room without practice, a new lawyer cannot be expected to draft and negotiate a contract solely based on the knowledge gained in law school. 

In this article, we identify the three key elements of experiential learning that have the greatest impact on training associates: microlearning, mock transactions, and live review sessions. 

Learn how to implement these elements so your transactional associates gain the confidence they need to start billing, while saving your firm time and money.

The Power of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning has grown in popularity as an effective learning method, and it turns out this type of training is well worth the hype. 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.

Most people agree that there are different types of learners: some of us learn best by observing, others by listening, and others by doing. Research in education science, however, tells us that our retention levels increase on a sliding scale, from the more abstract/passive—what we read, see, and hear—to the more concrete/active—what we write and do. Specifically, 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.  

In addition to retaining information better when we learn it through firsthand experience, we are better able to use and apply that information in other contexts. This transferability of skills can be invaluable in legal practice, where associates are constantly dealing with new issues and scenarios. 

Experienced transactional lawyers may appreciate experiential learning more than any other type of lawyer. The contracts course most of us took in law school may teach the theory of contracts, but until the law student sees an actual contract, practices reviewing and drafting provisions, and receives feedback on her efforts, she won’t have learned how to draft a contract. That’s why experiential learning is crucial for law firms to implement. Watching videos and attending lectures pales in comparison to simulating the real experience. 

Putting Experiential Learning into Practice

How do we incorporate experiential learning into educating and training new lawyers? 

A traditional contracts course that engages the student in experiential learning might discuss the theory of contracts, but would go further to illustrate the practical implications of the law in the context of an actual contract. Effective training would simulate a typical client scenario that requires students to research the law or key contract principles and determine how it would apply in this context.

Here are three effective ways you can incorporate experiential learning into your training:

1. Microlearning

Training doesn’t mean you need to run marathon training sessions every week. Make training digestible and more effective by providing bite-sized lessons. 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 microlearning sessions that build over time using active and multiple methods of training average up to 90% retention. 

Dr. Dale Edgar’s Cone of Experience. Learners retain more information by what they “do: as opposed to what they “read,” “hear,” “see,” or “say.”

Microlearning also helps training fit into the busy schedules of your employees. By delivering training in smaller bursts, your employees can easily access their training without it disrupting their routines. 

2. Mock Transactions

Mock transactions allow associates to immediately apply lessons to solve real-world client scenarios, using transaction documents derived from actual deals. For example, a course on contract drafting skills might require associates to:

1. research for themselves what provisions might go into a typical contract,
2. discuss what each provision means and why it is needed; and
3. practice drafting actual provisions in a real-life context. The students would then receive feedback on their drafting.

To do this right, the mock transaction should incorporate juicy facts from an actual or simulated “client” scenario. When building the scenario, insert more than just facts that test the application of the law or certain contract principles. Also incorporate facts that force the associate to deal with, among other things, loopholes, conflicts, client timing issues, business constraints, incomplete information, practical considerations, and outside-of-the-box type of thinking. In other words, make the scenarios emulate real life as much as possible.

Just like in a real transaction, the assignment should require associates to synthesize relevant information provided in ancillary documents such as mock client emails, memos from senior lawyers, and client deal documents (e.g., term sheets, precedent contracts, etc.). The goal is to create a healthy level of friction so associates also start to build some transaction management muscles. 

In this example contract drafting course, your associates would be more likely to recall the provisions and their respective purposes more clearly. They’d also be more likely to fully understand and apply what they've learned than had they just been passively “taught” the concepts. 

3. Live Review Sessions

Once associates complete their mock assignment, they should receive feedback on their simulated work product. One approach is to simply give them the model answer, but that would cut short the next and equally important part of the learning journey: the live review session. 

By having an experienced practitioner run live review sessions, you deepen your associates’ learning and allow them to ask the questions they answered. The most optimal way to organize and run these sessions is to develop thorough lesson guides and materials for the facilitators. These lesson guides should annotate the model answer and provide a roadmap for the facilitators so that they can address the spectrum of issues presented in exercise. The lesson guides should also inform the facilitators as to when to weave in their war stories, tweak facts, or ask questions in the sessions in order to engage or probe the associates. This way, the facilitators can review the submitted assignments consistently, identify gaps, and then run the live sessions with a specific agenda in mind. 

Need help with your training?

There’s a reason why firms such as K&L Gates, Holland & Knight, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, 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. 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. 


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

Julie Ryan

Julie Ryan leads and oversees course design, development, and instruction for AltaClaro’s Training Programs. Julie has taught over 400 U.S. and international lawyers to date; in addition to teaching on AltaClaro’s platform, she teaches a lawyering skills course for international business lawyers at Georgetown Law and served for over 8 years as Associate Director of Legal Writing and Advocacy for international LL.M. students at USC Gould School of Law.