We’ve all probably heard some variation of the following two business quotes:
Prepare your staff so they can leave and go anywhere… treat them well enough so they don’t want to leave.
Q: What if I train them, and they leave?
A: What if you don’t train them and they stay?
I thought about both of these a couple weeks ago when I had to go in and justify my budget for 2018. One of the first questions that came up was why my professional development budget was (percentage-wise) so much larger than other departments. I responded with a variation of the two quotes listed above. Professional development is one of the most important benefits I think a department can offer. It is especially important when the department has a variety of legal topics which it must research and master.
When interviewing candidates for research positions, I stress the importance of professional development, and sell that as a reason to come work for me. When I do annual reviews of employees, professional development for the upcoming year is always included in the discussion, and we toss ideas back and forth on what is important to the individual employee to learn, as well as what the different practice areas and industry practices need us to know. When I need to cut budgets, professional development is the last place I look, not the first. And, when employees decide it is time to move on in their careers, I want them to stress to potential employers that professional development support is one of the factors they are looking when making the decision to come work for them.
Most law firms do not lack from training and professional development opportunities. We have arrangements and subscriptions from the local and state bar associations. Subscriptions and memberships to the American Bar Association, and other professional associations such as the American Association of Law Libraries, ILTA, the Legal Marketing Association, professional industry associations, and subscriptions to online, on-demand, and in-person classes through publishers and professional development companies, such as West LegalEdCenter, ARK or PLI. Some of these are unlimited subscriptions to any of the offered courses. The key to making the most of these training opportunities is stressing the importance of professional development to those in the department, and providing them the time and resources needed to attend the courses.
I’m also a big believer in letting people attend these courses and educational conferences in person. It costs more, but there are direct and indirect benefits from actually sitting in a room with others that make up for those costs. It shows the importance you place on professional development. It shows the trust you have in that person to be away from the office, hopefully in a place that is fun to visit, and that you see and treat them as a professional. It gives them an opportunity to meet others who have similar interests, and potentially build a professional peer group to reach out to after the courses or conferences are over. When professional development is organized correctly, it is a win for everyone in the organization.