Implementing Elite Training for Lawyers
What drew Schrage’s attention to Navy SEAL training is the focus on mental excellence. If you want to be the best, then the training program must be designed to deliver the best. Webb built the improved training program around four principles, which Schrage recommended for business organizations and graduate business schools that want to operate at exceptional levels.
- “Produce Excellence, Not ‘Above Average’ “
In Webb’s words, “Being very good wasn’t good enough. Training programs shouldn’t be designed to deliver competence; they must be dedicated to producing excellence. Serious organizations don’t aspire to be comfortably above average.” Or, as Schrage framed it, “training divorced from excellence is mere compliance.”
Lawyers leave school educated, but untrained. What familiarity they gained through clinics with some skills they may use when practicing is not training aimed at competence, much less excellence. Legal service organizations have provided on-the-job training, which has been hit or miss. The legal industry has believed that the more impressive the organization a graduate joins, the better the training he or she will get. We have no data demonstrating this belief is correct.
Clients deserve excellence. To deliver excellent legal services, legal service organizations need lawyers trained to excellence, not competence. This level of training can be delivered, even in an industry going through transformation. First, training must be continuous, not haphazard. It should start in law school and continue until lawyers leave the profession. Second, as noted below, there must be rewards and consequences associated with training. Third, the trainers must be qualified to provide the training. World-class organizations that value training bring in world-class trainers: top-tier academics and practitioners, not professional trainers without skills and experience in the discipline. Fourth, the training must be designed to produce excellence. “Seat in the char” type training programs are a waste.
- “Incentivize Excellence Not Competence”
As Schrage states it, “Even if the training itself is world-class, organizations need recognition and rewards systems that explicitly acknowledge and promote excellence.” In Webb’s words, “For training to work it has to be effective and incentives have to be in place (financial, personal growth, promotion, etc.) for training to be effective in the work place and in order to get employee ‘buy in.’ “ Also, according to Webb, training should focus on skills enhancement and on building better bonds and relationships throughout the enterprise.
We have moved in many ways to a culture that values participation, not performance. This is a controversial issue when it comes to children and whether to reward playing the game as much as winning the game. When it comes to adults and organizations, we should recognize that consistent success comes from performing at high levels, not just participating. Training should have consequences, both good and bad. Lawyers should be in programs that drive improvement, with the goal of achieving excellence. Rather than investing large sums in continuing education programs that provide little if any benefit to the participants, legal service delivery organizations should invest those sums in training aimed at driving excellence in their lawyers (for which getting CLE certification should be easy). These programs should include both substantive law and service delivery.
- “Incorporate New Ideas from the Ground”
Webb believes successful training must be dynamic, open and innovative. While Webb and Schrage acknowledge that incremental improvement has its place, “ongoing transformation,” in Schrage’s words, is important for both trainers and trainees.
Today, few lawyers believe in incremental improvement in legal service delivery. The prevailing attitude is leave well enough alone. If clients are willing to pay for the services as currently delivered, then why mess with a good thing?
Clients should reject this approach. Instead, clients should demand incremental improvement as part of a legal services organization culture and ongoing transformation as part of the legal industry norm. Legal service organizations should respond by creating cultures where every day, every employee is encouraged and rewarded for bringing forward improvements. Moreover, these organizations should embrace a philosophy – as their business counterparts do – that every year the organization’s business model is up for transformation. As new and improved ways of predicting and preventing, or at a minimum identifying and solving, client problems become available, legal service organizations should pivot to those improved models. Excellence requires delivering the best, not last year’s (or last century’s) services, slightly warmed over.
- “Lead by Example”
Schrage reminds us that “[g]etting better at getting better is a vital organizing principle for learning organizations.” Or, as Schrage states, the “most important training behavior a leader can demonstrate … is leading by example.” Webb states it as, [l]ead by example and watch your team elevate you with their own accomplishments.”
Legal organization leaders are, to put it rather bluntly, prone to whining. The problem is not with them, they cry, but with their teams. The teams won’t follow the leaders where the leaders want to go. The result, the leaders tell us, is that they want to lead it ‘s just that the followers don’t want to follow. Balderdash.
Leaders should not blame their shortcomings on their followers. If the leaders are not being successful, we need to look to the quality of the leaders, not the followers. This situation is probably most frightening when one thinks of the future of the legal industry. Legal organization leaders need to rise quickly to this challenge or step aside. The epitaph for the legal industry should not be, “They knew where to go, but no one would follow.”
Earning Our Right to Practice Everyday
Lawyers leave law school overeducated and undertrained. This situation can and should be corrected. But, it is far worse for the industry when these overeducated and undertrained professionals are allowed to continue in their careers without the requirement that training – relentless and continuous training towards excellence – be part of their daily existence. Why should any client be confronted with the choice of forgoing legal representation, or accepting representation from a lawyer whose legal service delivery model is 100 years old and who believes that the maximum the lawyer should deliver is the minimum the client will accept.
The SEALs did not have a formal code until fairly recently. They operated for decades with informal sayings or beliefs, such as “leave no man behind.” Recently, however, the SEALs adopted a formal code. As I noted above, the symbol for a seal is the Trident. So, it is fitting that the SEALs code ends with the statement, “Earn your Trident everyday.”
Lawyers are sworn members of the bar. They carry professional responsibilities as part of the privilege society gives them to practice law. When any of us aspires to something less than excellence, it reflects on all of us. If we want to retain our privileged place in society, then we should show society that its confidence in us is well placed. We should strive to earn our right to practice law everyday.