Designing legal training for non-lawyers

One of the major challenges for the in-house lawyer is the difficulty of dealing with an ever-increasing workload. Resources rarely match demand, and budgets are constantly under stress.

One way of managing the demand, and dealing with some types of legal risk, is to provide training for non-lawyers in the organisation on legal matters. 

In this way, colleagues can be equipped with the ability to recognise where legal issues may arise, and to seek assistance or raise a ‘red flag’ where appropriate. With the use of appropriate guidance, templates or playbooks they can also be given the resources to deal with some routine legal issues themselves. 

The advent of online and virtual training courses, online playbooks which can set up document templates with proactive variations achieved through questionnaires, and the ability to devise bespoke programmes have all made it easier to design legal training for non-lawyers than might not have been the case in the past. 

Designing effective legal training, though, is not as easy as it sounds, and this article will look at some of the issues around what to cover and how. 

What topics should we consider for training?

Typically, you might want to consider offering training in:

  • Self-delivery: areas where you want people to use self-delivery resources, so that they can deal with some straightforward legal issues themselves, and understand not only the resources but also something of the legal concepts behind them;
  • Compliance: areas where you seek to ensure compliance with an organisation’s legal obligations by ensuring that staff know about those obligations, and what they need to do to comply; and
  • Red flags: areas where you need colleagues to recognise areas of concern, or red flags, where they must draw issues to attention so that they can be acted upon.

Part 1 of the CLL article Using the organisation’s resources considers how you might use other resources in the organisation to deliver legal services through self-delivery, and lists a number of areas where you might consider using such a route. Amongst others, these include some sales contracts, procurement and supply contracts, some technology and employment arrangements. You can also find a helpful Framework with that article.

Areas where you might want to use training to help the organisation ensure compliance with regulatory issues, or to recognise areas of concern or red flags might include data protection compliance, anti-bribery, health and safety and much more. 

What are your training goals?

Consider your goals in running the training? It’s important to define:

  • who needs to be trained, why, and in what; 
  • what you expect the training to achieve; and 
  • what you want people to be able to do when they have been trained. 

There are also some common problems to avoid:

  • no training can be expected to turn non-lawyers into experts on the law;
  • there is a risk of trying to solve a problem which can’t be remedied by training; 
  • you might not have identified the real purpose of the training; or
  • you might be trying to include too much information in the training course.

What training activities are appropriate?

The expectation that training should be delivered face-to-face by a trainer in a room has changed significantly in recent years. Many different forms of on-line and virtual training are available, and there are multiple vendors who will develop such courses for you using your own material. Once you have the virtual course, it is easy to roll it out to multiple learners.

In some respects, though, the ease of such development is itself a risk. There might be a temptation to train more people than you would have done in person just because you can do so easily. You might deliver training devised for one audience to a different audience with entirely different needs or expectations. There is a risk of diluting the benefit of focused training by making too many courses mandatory.

To ensure the training is effective, you need to consider what type of training is most effective for the intended recipients. In many cases, virtual learning may be appropriate, but in others it may be much more effective to be led by an instructor in the room. Some people will learn best at their own pace with the opportunity to advance at their own pace; others need more direction and intervention. Consider who you are training and their characteristics.

How can you ensure your learners are engaged?

While on-line training can take up less time than in-person because there is no wasted travel time, it still represents a significant investment in cost and time both for the person to be trained and for their employer. If it is ineffective, it might well also leave people with an imperfect – or even wrong – understanding of what they need to do. 

As a starting point, people need to understand why they are being trained, and ideally to feel that they want the training and that they how they will benefit from it. It has also been said that for learners to be engaged, they need to feel respected both by you and by the process. Pitch the training at the wrong level, leave them feeling patronised or that their time is being wasted, and they will quickly disengage from the training course.

You might consider how your learners are accustomed to be trained. If you work in an organisation which has an existing online training suite, is it appropriate to use that as a model so that people don’t have to learn new systems to engage? To do so might remove an obstacle to training. 

What are your learning objectives?

In other words, what do you want the people receiving the training to be able to do after the training? Picking up on the topics of self-delivery, compliance and red-flags noted earlier, you might want trainees:

  • to understand something – such as the basic legal concepts involved, the penalties involved in non-compliance, or the organisation’s reputation or ethical need for a particular course of action;
  • to perform a task – such as to work with a standard form document knowing when it should be used and what optional clauses should be used when; or
  • to recognise areas of concern – perhaps such as anti-competitive behaviour – and to understand how to act if they see it.

As with many other objectives in organisational life, it can be very helpful to make the learning objectives ‘smart’ – that is to say:  specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

How do we learn?

As lawyers, generally speaking we like learning about the law. We are used to academic study and enjoy the intellectual concepts involved. Typically, lawyers learn through personal study, reading and through lecture and debate. Many of our non-legal colleagues may learn in entirely different ways: their preference may be visual rather than verbal. They may prefer diagrammatic and schematic representations to text. They may expect a ‘right’ answer – or at least a ‘right’ course of action to follow, rather than a classical ‘it depends’ legal response.  

All of this means that the training materials you choose should be tailored to your audience. They should be structured so that each section builds on the previous one, and should include a variety of formats where possible. Just ‘telling’ someone something once is unlikely to let it sink in. It has often been said that to get a message across, you should tell people what you’re going to say, say it, and then tell them what you’ve said. Indeed, one educational theory suggests that learners need to process a concept no fewer than seven times to be familiar and comfortable with it. That may not be possible in a short course, but you can use different methods to reinforce key messages – for example you could consider:

  • an introduction to the concept;
  • coverage in more detail;
  • an example scenario based on the concept;
  • an individual learning task – ideally interactive – for the learner to engage;
  • a story from someone in the organisation who has dealt with the issue already;
  • a reinforcement of the key concepts at the end; and
  • some form of post-course engagement. For that engagement, you might even perhaps ask your learners to write a letter to themselves to be posted a month later, to remind them of the concepts they learnt on the day.

Red flags and warnings

A key learning objective might well be the recognition of red flags and warning signs – for example around when legal collaboration turns to anti-competitive behaviour for competition law purposes. Such instances lend themselves well to example scenarios and stories, and these can be used to emphasise that behaviours which may have been acceptable in the past are no longer appropriate. If this is the case, the training may need to express the position very clearly – even bluntly.

When should people speak to legal?

In many instances of legal training, one of your objectives might well be to ensure that people speak to the legal team if particularly circumstances arise. If that is so, make clear what the trigger points are, exactly how people can contact the legal team (with options if the first contact isn’t available) and when contact should be made – is an immediate, out-of-hours, call necessary for example? It needs to be made as easy as possible for a contact to be made.

A word about training materials

If you are delivering training in-house in an organisation, you may find that there are learning and development specialists in post already. If so, do consider asking them to help you develop the training. They may well already have on-line platforms, templates, and tried and tested structures which will be very helpful to you in preparing your training materials.

If not, you can still use standard Microsoft Office programs such as Word and PowerPoint to develop your training, and PowerPoint presentations can be adapted into an on-line resource with commentary if that is helpful to roll-out a standard presentation on many occasions. Be aware, though, that multiple bullet-point slides are not particularly engaging, and you may want to find ways of breaking them up with graphics, pictures, handouts or (if in person) the use of flip-charts.

Be aware, too, that people are used to seeing very high-quality broadcast and online materials in their daily lives. If your training falls way below those standards, you may find they are not taken seriously. You may like to consider whether there are commercially available materials – for example video clips – which you can incorporate in your training materials to provide variety and engagement. Clips of news reports can be very useful to highlight the rationale for particularly issues.

Bear in mind that your main concerns in developing training materials are to ensure that they reinforce and support your learning objectives, and will help your colleagues in the organisation to learn more effectively.

Some final thoughts

The best-prepared training is of no value if trainees don’t come to the course. The practical steps of ensuring they are told about it, understand whether or not it is mandatory, have enough notice to attend and to prepare for the course are equally important. Whether the course is online or in person, you need to try it out in advance on a ‘friendly’ audience so you have an opportunity to take feedback into account. You may also want to include some form of assessment at the end of the course, and to consider how well you have met your learning objectives.

It has been said that knowledge is power, and one of the most effective ways to develop legal compliance in an organisation is to provide high-quality, effective, training. Done well, it will also enhance the reputation of the legal team, and its integration into the organisation.

Some further reading

CLL Resources:
Using the Organisation’s Resources: Part 1 – helping the organisation to help itself
Using the Organisation’s Resources: Part 2 – using the organisation’s own specialists

Other Resources:
How People Learn Nick Shackleton-Jones (Kogan Page)