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Of training and the changing role of the paralegal

By March 17, 2006current affairs

Dennis Kennedy’s blog led me to this post by David Maister entitled Why Training is Useless.  Maister is a trainer so his post isn’t really a blanket statement that training is useless, but that it is used in the wrong ways by companies and managers.  For some reason, many people seem to need to be reminded of this: you can’t train people to act contrary to their entrenched character.

Maister gives the example of a company asking him to train managers to be more effective:

Another example of wasted money are the calls I get to put on training programs to help people become better managers. I put my callers through a standard set of questions: Did you choose your managers because they were the kind of people who could get their fulfillment and satisfaction out of helping other people shine, rather than having the ego need to shine themselves? (No!) Did you select them because they had a prior history of being able to give a critique to someone in such a way that the other person says- wow, that was really helpful, I’m glad you helped me see all that. (No!) Do you reward these people for how well their group is done, or do you reward them for their own personal accomplishments in generating business and serving clients? (Their personal numbers!)

So, let’s summarize, I say. You’ve chosen people who don’t want to do the job, who haven’t demonstrated any prior aptitude for the job, and you are rewarding them for things other than doing the job? Thanks, but I’ll pass on the wonderful privilege of training them!

I completely agree that it’s silly to train people who are ill-suited to the task that they are being asked to perform.  Sadly, we now live in a world where the skill sets for many jobs have been radically transformed. 

Paralegals are a prime example of this trend.  Paralegals evolved to help lawyers organize and keep track of paper, which was a growing problem. The growth rate of the "1980’s paper problem" is miniscule compared to the electronic information problem of the post-2000 era.

E-discovery is a landmine for most lawyers because they don’t understand electronic information.  Why aren’t more lawyers shocked that a distinguished lawyer (Editor-in-Chief of Notre Dame Law Review, summa cum laude graduate) at a distinguished firm could be perceived to have messed up electronic discovery to the point where the judge ordered an ‘adverse inference’ instruction to be read to the jury?  The adverse inference instruction basically encouraged the jury to conclude that Morgan Stanley had purposefully withheld information, when in fact it is entirely possible that they just didn’t make timely production of electronic information that had been sought by the plaintiffs.

Why didn’t they make timely production?  I don’t really know, but it looks pretty clear to a lot people that none of the lawyers really grasped the scope of the problem in gathering electronic information.  Lawyers are prone to view this sort of thing as ‘not my problem.’  Lawyers think that they can simply ask their clients to gather the information and then pass it on to the paralegals and then their job is done.

That is a dangerous train of thought.  And all the training in the world isn’t going to make paralegals more adept at handling electronic information.  There are many paralegals out there who have learned (usually on their own) how to deal with electronic information.  But there are many who are not encouraged to learn about it (after all who would encourage them?  Lawyers who barely understand it themselves?).  So, training will not solve the problem.

But, I’m sure that won’t stop many law firms from trying to train their paralegals to better handle electronic information.

P.S. If you appreciate these kinds of observations, you might want to read this as well.
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