Pivots and opportunities: how the pandemic changed L&D for law firms

Participants from L-R: Katie Best, Christian Papworth, Katie Wharton, Madi Clemens

What did law firms learn from the Covid-19 pandemic? I hosted a panel exploring just that at the Learning in Law conference in March 2022, exploring the past, present and future of L&D and the many changes coronavirus has brought about. I was joined by three fantastic panellists: Madi Clemens, Senior Learning & Development Manager for the UK and European offices at Clyde & Co; Katie Wharton, L&D Manager at Lewis Silkin; and Christian Papworth, Academy Manager with a tech focus from Mishcon de Reya.

Looking back

We started by reflecting on how the pandemic had been for the firms involved. The general conclusion was that it had been a tough time, with a need for speedy pivoting and getting on board with online learning almost overnight. Not only did existing L&D offerings need to move online, but there was suddenly a ferocious clamour for specific L&D that tackled the new challenges being faced. The topic of resilience, which was already on the table for many law firms, grew in stature, and was joined by the now usual suspects of remote leadership: hybrid working and business development in an online context.

The panel were keen to move on to talking about opportunities, but I held them back a little longer to explore some early mistakes and missteps. Everyone agreed that tech was one of the biggest early challenges – mostly the nuts and bolts, such as remembering to mute/unmute, getting systems up and running on time, and teaching people how to use the tech well enough that things ran smoothly. Everyone recognised that challenges remain, particularly with hybrid working, which has become a painful thorn in the side of most firms due both to the need for L&D around learning to work in a hybrid setting, and in terms of running hybrid L&D offerings themselves.

Katie from Lewis Silkin highlighted the enormous uptake for their D&I training, partly because of a growth of awareness of this area, but also because the training going online made it easier for people to fit into their days. The pandemic created an opportunity for a really important subject to get the status it deserved.

In the present

There was a murmur of delight when we realised that, collectively, firms were taking learning and development more seriously than ever before, realising how fundamental it is to a successful firm. I quoted a statistic from the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report 2021, showing the number of L&D professionals who say they have a seat at the C-Suite table in the UK has climbed from 24% in March 2020 to 65% a year later. There were nods that suggested this was reflected at law firms, and a general agreement it was good news.

There was a sense that some reskilling is taking place at the moment, as people come back to face-to-face settings and are having to exercise people skills again. Madi from Clyde & Co highlighted that the challenges of getting people into a room for L&D had re-emerged, with the astronomical attendance figures of online learning when everyone was at home eroding somewhat.

Hybrid was the theme here again, with Christian from Mishcon de Reya wishing for a setup that would allow a real sense of equality between those at home and those in the office during a meeting.

Summary

Overall it was a fruitful discussion, with lots of audience members saying afterwards they had really enjoyed the sense of being in the same boat as other firms, and with the atmosphere of collective challenge and opportunity feeling positive and beneficial. An industry function brought together and made critical to organisational success by a global challenge: there’s surely nothing more galvanising than that.

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