A memo (see snippet below) was sent out to all associates at one national firm last week mandating any associate that “utilizes or intends to utilize Westlaw” to attend a training session to learn the firm’s “Best Practices”. I’m actually glad to see that a firm has stepped up and created a “Best Practices” manual for using resources like Westlaw, and is using the professional staff in the library to do the training (rather than having the Westlaw rep come in and do it for them.)

Training is “supposed” to be an ongoing event for the firm, especially on a product like Westlaw that can be one of the biggest expenses for the firm. But, let’s be honest… how many associates attend the weekly or monthly training sessions held in the library? Probably very few. What firms are left with then are self-taught associates that probably do not understand the difference between an in-contract search versus an out-of-contract search… or how cost recovery even works. I’m sure many of us have heard someone ask “it’s all in our Westlaw contract, right? Therefore it doesn’t cost the firm for me to use it, right?” And then watch their eyes glaze over when you explain what each search costs the firm, and how the firm eats the costs of their searches that are not billable to a client.
Training is one of the areas that has been hardest hit in the library, especially after the Great Recession put the squeeze on firms. When you basically turn associates loose on expensive resources like Westlaw or Lexis without giving them the proper training, then you’re asking for trouble. But like most things in a law firm, the problem has to explode before anyone will take it seriously. Creating “Best Practices” document (it should be written down, you know!!), is a great start. However, this problem of poorly trained associates didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be solved over a one-hour lunch program either.
I’m hoping that the associates walk away from this lunch training with a better understanding of how the firm’s contract with Westlaw works, how the client is billed (or not billed) for the work, what additional costs can be incurred through poor researching techniques, and the email and phone numbers of the folks in the library to contact the next time they have questions on how to use Westlaw properly.