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From Just-In-Case to Just-In-Time Digital Learning in the Law Firm

Just last month I was approached by leaders from two large law firms within about three days of each other. Both had very similar objectives: They needed to create new learning resources to address some key fundamental topics for their newest lawyers, and they needed to do so in a way that would cater to the learning needs and styles of this growing segment of the workforce.

Both firms wanted to create elearning resources that would help get their newest team members up to speed quickly, with content presented in a way that would actually be embraced and absorbed. And they had limited budgets with which to accomplish this.

When I first started working with law firms to address on-demand learning nearly 15 years ago, a request like this would have been a relatively tall order. When done well, elearning was rather expensive to develop and was seen as a fairly intimidating undertaking by most firms.

The landscape today is very different. I can point to very few firms that aren’t doing something with elearning; and many, in fact, have incorporated online learning into all facets of their talent management, compliance, on-boarding, communication, and client training efforts. Online learning is no longer an experiment or an occasional-use tool; it is a mainstay of organizational learning and an important part of the overall approach to developing any workforce.

Online learning, in all its forms, has become more prevalent and accepted across all industries (including law) because it is increasingly recognized as an effective means of enabling the workforce to find what they need to know when they need to know it.

This tech-enabled approach to learning is continuing to grow as a percentage of overall talent management budgets. According to a Summer 2018 survey of 1500 Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board members, an incredible 57% of respondents stated that they will increase their Learning & Development (L&D) spending next year. This figure is up significantly from a 2017 survey.

And there is much agreement about where these additional funds will be spent. The highest spending priorities include:

  • Learning Technology

  • Content Libraries

  • L&D Strategy (including Digital Learning Strategy)

A 2018 LinkedIn report stated, "Our survey shows that talent developers depend more on online learning solutions than ever before—not only to deliver content, but to measure learning success." More than 90% of organizations across industries now offer digital learning resources to their workforce.

On-demand learning is no longer a budget afterthought - it is a key component of all L&D budgets across industries and around the world.

Just look around at what your peers are doing and you’ll see that firms of all sizes have realized the way their lawyers want to learn is “on-the-job” and “just-in-time.” And they are moving quickly to meet these changing preferences and approaches in a variety of creative ways.

Josh Bersin of Deloitte recently stated, “As training moves to more digital formats, it’s colliding with new realities in learners’ jobs, behaviors, habits and preferences. Today’s employees are overwhelmed, distracted, and impatient.Flexibility in where and how they learn is increasingly important. They want to learn from their peers and managers as much as from experts. And they’re taking more control over their own development.”

Along with this shift is the move to more modular, targeted learning. Smart firms are finding that “bite-size is the right size” for delivering useful online content to their lawyers and encouraging them to engage more frequently with it as part of the way they work. Bite-size content is short and focused, and thus easier to absorb and understand (and easier to make time for). It is also better aligned with the way our short-term memories work and is likely to result in better retention.

People want to learn professionally the same way they learn in their personal lives. They place less value on lengthy just-in-case training sessions and more greatly value just-in-time access to what they need to know as part of their workflow.

To meet this need, we are seeing firms today leverage their existing recordings and classroom training materials by repackaging them into something more by repurposing the content into interactive and visual bite-sized “bursts” of on-demand learning.

Hogan Lovells LLP is one firm that is recognizing these benefits and is now pursuing such an approach, under the leadership of Global Chief Learning Officer, Dr. Heather Bock. After building a robust library of on-demand continuing legal education programs, Hogan Lovells is now disassembling lengthy one and two hour programs and re-packaging the content into shorter, more concise quick-hit elearning segments that succinctly address targeted aspects of the topic. An existing two-hour program on the topic of Confidentiality, for example, has been re-envisioned as a six-part series of 15-to-20 minute modules that each address a narrowly-defined segment of the topic.

To leverage the knowledge of Hogan Lovells’ subject matter experts without further infringing on their time, the new series leverages the original content, but features a condensed rendition that is professionally narrated and supported with strong visuals to help illustrate complex topics and aid understanding and retention.

“This approach allows us to capture the deep knowledge and expertise of our subject matter experts in a format that is highly-engaging and more likely to be viewed many times over across the firm … while not asking any more from our lawyers,” said Bock.

Creating engaging on-demand learning of this nature is easier than you think. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you get started:

Start with topics that you present repeatedly. Are there presentations you deliver or topics you cover every year or on a regular basis that might be ripe for repurposing into an online just-in-time resource? New hire orientation programs are one option but there are many others. An overview of financial concepts for transactional lawyers, intake and conflicts, harassment awareness and business development skills are just a few examples that we’ve seen addressed repeatedly.

Leverage content that you already have.

You already have an extensive array of existing content. Why not repurpose and repackage to be highly effective – and likely far more accessible and digestible – in an online format. Live training that you’ve captured on video is one option but it isn’t the only option. For example, if you have video recordings that aren’t of the best quality, you might be able to leverage the audio from them. Or if both video and audio are poor quality, but the content is solid and worth sharing, it can be leveraged to create a script, from which a more enticing, engaging online program can be developed. The point is: you already have a lot of content. Look beyond the current format and consider repurposing it.

Use your resources wisely (i.e., your subject matter experts).

A great illustrative example was shared by a panelist at a recent legal professional development conference. She told the story of an M&A lawyer at her firm who values efficiency and was getting tired of answering the same questions from junior lawyers over and over again. He was sold on the idea of creating a series of short online resources addressing the topic. While everyone was excited about creating the first resource, weeks dragged into months waiting for the lawyer to find time in his busy schedule to develop the content for the brief resource. To expedite development and make the best use of a valuable resource, the firm decided to draft a script, leveraging a document previously developed by the lawyer. Instead of asking him to create the script himself – which could have taken many months – she asked him to do what many lawyers do best, to review and critique the script that was already written. The script was created and approved in a matter of days, with minimal time investment by the firm’s in-house lawyers, and now the firm has an engaging just-in-time resource for anyone who wants to learn more about capitalization.

Consider narration vs. subject matter expert recording.

Often the first thought that comes to mind is “we’ve got to get the partner in front of a camera,” but there are other options that can be even better. Instead of a partner presenting, consider creating a script and having it professionally narrated. This approach has many benefits: It is faster, as you don’t have to coordinate time for experts to get in front of a camera, you have the opportunity to really think through how things should be presented or said, the resulting resource is easier to maintain and update, and the end result is more professional and polished. As the previous example illustrates, it can also allow you to make the best use of your subject matter expert resources, using them for reviews as opposed to full content development.

Take advantage of the online medium. The online medium offers a wealth of opportunity so be sure to leverage it effectively. Simply posting text or posting a video for viewing online doesn’t take advantage of the real benefits of the online medium. To increase the engagement of the learner, you can create programs that are not linear; in other words, you can put the user in charge and allow them to decide how to navigate and which segments of the program to access and when. You can include scenarios; you might have the learner watch a short video or animated scenario, for example, then answer a few questions as to how they would handle the situation. They could even traverse different paths depending on their answer. Any chance for them to interact with the program through exercises or choices in navigation allows the learner to more actively engage with the content and take full advantage of the online medium.

So you can see, there is a real opportunity for firms, law schools and law departments to re-think their approach to learning and incorporate targeted bite-size just-in-time learning into their overall approach to professional development. MIT Professor Seymour Papert once said, “You can't teach people everything they need to know. The best you can do is position them where they can find what they need to know when they need to know it." So become that hero to your overwhelmed, distracted and impatient workforce and give them the flexibility to learn where and how they want.


About the Author Steve Gluckman is CEO of LawFirmElearning and author of E-Learning for Law Firms, a best-selling book published by the American Bar Association. He served as a Senior Fellow with Harvard University and previously led talent management for a large US-based law firm. Steve holds an MPA from Harvard University and a B.S. in Computer Science and Information Science from the Watson School of Engineering in New York. Steve can be reached at

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