Sometimes one learns valuable lessons in really enjoyable ways, and such was the case recently when we facilitated a Legal Project Management training workshop for the Energy, Environmental, Mining & Transportation practice group at Leonard Street & Deinard in Minneapolis (we reveal their identity here with their approval). Edge has long suggested that LPM workshops be limited to no more than 20-25 participants because this seemed a practical limit for having participants interact actively and get hands-on practice with specific LPM skills.

The ”Vertical” Focus

Experience demonstrated that presentations to large groups of lawyers were okay for “General Awareness Programs” designed to introduce broad LPM features and benefits, but they fell short in providing practical applied learning. Similarly, we learned empirically that LPM training worked better when focused on a single practice group or client team, rather than including participants from a variety of disciplines in the same training.

Better still were workshops where the members of a particular practice group or client team who actually worked together day to day all participated in training, working on bespoke case studies and materials derived from their own work. In most cases, however, these “vertical” workshops were populated only by lawyers, with the occasional paralegal thrown in.

Why Inclusiveness Matters

Firm planners at Leonard Street said that they wanted everybody involved in the EEMT practice group’s work to attend. “If we are going to improve the way we do things,” said Lowell Stortz, Leonard Street’s Managing Partner, “we need to include everybody who does things.” The firm wanted to send the message that managing their internal interdependencies consistently and efficiently obviously is very important. Stortz explained, “Because excellent client communication is at the heart of LPM, it also is extremely important to teach LPM to everyone who has any touch point with our clients. Each team member needs to know where they fit in to the activity of the whole practice group, and everybody needs to appreciate these varying client touch points.” Accordingly, Leonard Street’s LPM workshop included partners, associates, paralegals, administrative and technical support staff, and secretaries.

We suggested that this approach might result in a large and potentially ungainly number of participants, with reduced opportunity for active participation. They insisted. We demurred. They were right.

All Voices Heard

At the workshop, the ground rules were made clear: no passive observers, no shrinking violets, no pulling rank. Active participation was mandatory: everyone had something to learn about LPM – and everyone had something to teach. The outcome was simply terrific. In addition to learning how LPM works in real-life, the participants learned how their responsibilities intersect in well-planned and well-managed engagements. They provided each other with a broad spectrum of practical insights about their respective capabilities, pressures, limits and communication needs. Some of the most valuable and most practical insights came from those often overlooked fonts of knowledge and experience, the secretaries.

The lesson of this extraordinarily successful training experience was clear: Give everyone a seat at the table, even if the table gets crowded, and everyone eats better.