The Transformation of Legal Technology Training

Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)
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Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)

Ari Kaplan speaks with ACEDS board member Joy Murao, the founder and CEO of Practice Aligned Resources, a legal technology consulting and education company, about how legal technology training has evolved since she started Practice Aligned Resources in 2015, how the emergence of legal operations in both law firms and corporate law departments has impacted expectations of how skilled legal professionals need to be, the impact of advanced training on one’s career, and where legal technology training is headed.

Ari Kaplan:
Tell us about your background and the genesis of Practice Aligned Resources.

Joy Murao:
After graduating from paralegal school, I began working in litigation support. When I became a hiring manager, I quickly recognized the challenge of hiring staff with the skillsets required for our industry.  An issue which continues to this day. Addressing that challenge fueled the launch of Practice Aligned Resources (PAR), which created an environment where training is always at the forefront of everything we do. For me, creating PAR was a way for me to share what I learned over 25 years.

Ari Kaplan:
How has legal technology training evolved since you started Practice Aligned Resources in 2015?

Joy Murao:
The approach to training has evolved over time. Training used to follow a very predictable format, but I have seen it migrate towards workflow training or specific feature training versus being very menu-driven and making sure you touch every menu item that’s listed. What’s interesting now is, as you move forward and look at different technologies, things are more point-and-click or drag-and-drop. As a result, not only has the training changed, but the technology itself has evolved, which actually requires less formal training and more of an emphasis on workflow. Our team is often speaking about “why” and “how” professionals should be using technology for their practice, rather than the narrow mechanics of their usage.

Ari Kaplan:
What are some best practices that you recommend in developing training initiatives in this area?

Joy Murao:
I try to focus on roles, responsibilities and practical outcomes to construct programs that yield value right away. Some of my best practices focus on the end result for my students and encouraging them to correctly identify outcomes that we can build into the training.

Ari Kaplan:
How has the emergence of legal operations in both law firms and corporate legal departments impacted expectations of how skilled legal professionals actually need to be?

Joy Murao:
Unfortunately, there aren’t many opportunities to teach people how to function in legal operations roles within law firms or corporate legal departments so everyone struggles with understanding what that job means for their particularly company’s business. The emergence of legal operations, in law firms and legal departments requires us to focus our training on the skills that the relatively new function requires. Having people who can traverse IT, HR, and legal, while speaking a common vocabulary and understanding the drivers for each of those groups is an important asset to a valuable training program. We can make the most powerful impact when we understand the skills one has and what we can train the individual to do. 

Ari Kaplan:
How are people applying the training that they receive?

Joy Murao:
I see their questions and the way they approach challenges changing. Instead of being more timid when they start their training, we see the lessons connecting with them and their questions escalating in depth. Some take more of a command and follow through with their groups or departments. They ultimately learn to justify and speak to the value of whatever the new technology or initiative is that they are studying. They increasingly weigh the costs and benefits of different technologies and it is amazing to see how empowered they are to raise themselves and their departments up.

Ari Kaplan:
What impact are you seeing advanced training having on the careers of the professionals with whom you’re working?

Joy Murao:
I see people pivoting or layering on top of their current positions or jobs. They are developing their technology skills, especially since law schools are not yet completely teaching or integrating technology into their programs. Some leverage their new abilities to start practice groups or lead departments, such as litigation support or knowledge management. In addition, lawyers and paralegals are achieving higher-level career opportunities because they gain an understanding of the business side and recognize the value and the power of integrating IT and legal.

Ari Kaplan:
What’s the advantage of working with team members who have the diverse array of skills you described?

Joy Murao:
The diversity of skills and people on anyone’s team actually helps them become more successful in meeting the needs of their users. Many departments have changed designations from litigation support to practice support because in the legal landscape, technology is rooted in everything from bankruptcy to corporate M&A to litigation. As a result, a diverse skillset amongst your team is important to meet these new needs. I compare my teams to a chess board. Each piece has a different skillset or role that together we can deploy for different strategies. It gives us an ability to be successful no matter which path we follow. I often look towards filling a skill gap, even outside of the litigation support or practice development to the paralegal groups, word processing departments, IT teams, and business development leaders. Then, I look to vendors and service providers who can help fill those gaps. 

Ari Kaplan:
What are the practical implications of offering a wide selection of training opportunities?

Joy Murao:
It means offering online training and video training, among other types, in a variety of styles and durations. Wider selections mean creating very specific topics and focusing them on the audience. If you’re teaching legal hold issues, you need to create a different kind of training program for your audience, whether it is comprised of paralegals, legal secretaries, operations staff members, law firm associates, or partners. Their goals and the way they leverage that training or that information is going to be different. We strive for sustainable learning that hits home so we need to offer tangible and practical strategies. Understanding one piece allows them to seamlessly rise to the next level whenever that needs to be.

Ari Kaplan:
Where do you see legal technology training headed?

Joy Murao:
You’re already starting to see inroads being made with legal technology training or just a broader training outside of the typical paralegal or law school curriculum. That said, it is still not making the impact for which one would hope. There is a trend to broaden the duty of competency to include technology components, and as the obligations with respect to technology are more clearly defined, client expectations will rise. We will also see more ethics training around the value that technology will bring and protections it will offer those clients. I am hoping that more formal education programs in law and paralegal schools will offer a baseline core curriculum for legal technology training. After all, when you look at the evolution of work distributed amongst associates, paralegals, litigation support professionals, or practice professionals at law firms, they need to understand the roles that they play and how technology enhances their ability to serve clients. Litigation support departments are growing for this reason. Technology companies are spending a lot of money on innovation, which is amazing, but many dedicate more to marketing than training. That’s great for brand awareness, but training plays an indirect, important role for marketing. Investments in certification programs would give a product a framework or structure that allows end users to see value.

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