Written by Geoff Zodda, Managing Director at Glenmont Group
One of the more understated positions within a law firm tends to be the “Good Ole” IT Trainer. They do their respective jobs day in and day out, yet do not get much press for the importance they have at the firm. A decent number of users with whom the trainers work on a weekly basis do not realize what comprises a day in the life of a trainer. In between teaching classes, whether via WebEx, Classroom, or a one-on-one setting, trainers have major responsibilities that make up a far greater percentage of their workday than one would think.
It is often your IT Trainer who serves as the backup at the help desk should there be a shortage of individuals for the demand at one time. They are often tasked with developing curriculum, cheat sheets, and training manuals and materials for the firm. Trainers are heavily relied upon to research and study on a variety of software, hardware, and the latest technology trends, and to be the encyclopedia of general IT knowledge, so they can effectively engage and educate their audience.
One would struggle to count the number of different hats IT Trainers wear over the course of a single workday at the firm, let alone throughout the life of their training careers. A person with those constant and diverse responsibilities, with the personality to know how to regularly and effectively communicate with users of varying technical understanding, and who is relied upon by potentially thousands of employees to be the resident expert in an ever-changing environment like legal IT, has got to be one of the more well-regarded roles within a law firm’s IT group, right? Wrong. With all of that reliance and dependence on one role, why are IT Trainers seemingly so undervalued in law firms?
We asked trainers, users, and management to help explain how this became an unfortunate trend in the law firm industry. One explanation, which seems to be the consensus amongst the law firm community, is that since the users are so busy, and may only spend a few hours over the course of weeks or months with a particular Trainer, they may not be aware of the greater impact IT Trainers can have on a firm.
Jennifer Holehouse, Co-Founder of the Washington Trainers Forum, spoke with us about what makes Trainers so important to a law firm, commenting, “In-house law firm trainers are generally going to be able to spend time learning direct business needs and the workflow of the practice, and be able to customize learning modules to use technology to streamline and boost productivity. In contrast, out of the box training or e-learning won’t have the same positive impact on productivity – although they can be a good supplement to custom learning. The fact is most jobs will require some type of training in order for people to do the job correctly.” Bryan Gehle, Director of Applications at Howrey LLP, feels that law firms tend to misunderstand how to assign value to IT Trainers, suggesting, “Trainers don’t typically fall under IT Department/CIO cost structure. Therefore, the cost to employ Trainers that are then leveraged for IT Support seems high, unjustified or misplaced.” Understanding the flaw in this logic, Gehle counters, “Trainers are important because they typically can answer the ‘how to’ questions that get asked of [potentially higher-paid] tier 2 and tier 3 resources. However, Trainers should train tier 1/help desk support analysts or provide tier 0 [self help] documentation [that is] easily accessible by users. IT Trainers often become the ’face’ of technology. As such, they become the first point of contact for future questions/incidents, which may by-pass any tier 1/Help Desk channels that aren’t well established. When this happens, user questions [are not] captured and therefore no statistical data is available to justify their work or value to the organization.”
There are many challenges for IT Trainers in a law firm environment, but the two most common ones go hand-in-hand. First, and foremost, the users (i.e. the attorneys, litigation support staff, finance departments, etc.) are strapped for time with their day-to-day and ad hoc responsibilities, so fitting in a training class or webinar into their full, and often over-extended, schedules is not normally on the top of their priority list. Unless the firms’ leadership or departmental management mandates it, IT Trainers have to work to coordinate the varying schedules of the audience they are attempting to teach.
Once a Trainer has a captive audience, the next hurdle is helping the users to realize the short- and long-term benefits that training offers, and the impact it will have on their daily responsibilities. IT Trainers focus on educating the users, while striving to improve their understanding and comfort with the various, and always evolving, technologies utilized by a law firm. When Trainers accomplish this, workflow processes are more likely to be refined within the specific user groups, and ultimately greater efficiencies are promoted within the firm as a whole.
The reality of today’s top law firms are that they are largely driven by the technologies they employ. However, IT Trainers are only as valuable to a law firm as the value a firm places on its technology. Law firms that ignore the glaring deficit created by conducting everyday business with antiquated technologies perpetuate an industry-wide under-appreciation and place a generally misguided lack of value on how IT Trainers are integral to staying competitive. Whereas firms that have committed to keeping up with the latest trends in IT and then go acquire those technologies, typically have already consulted with their IT Trainers to verify the product’s quality and understand any of its potential short-falls prior to making that purchase, as well as to devise a plan how to rollout and implement it, and prepare how to teach the intended users to best understand and utilize that technology once it has been obtained. As firms rely on the expertise of its IT Support professionals to oversee, maintain, and protect the health of their IT infrastructure, the strength and quality of the IT Trainers directly bolsters the investment that law firms make to build that infrastructure, by teaching the firms’ users to conduct business and leverage technologies. You decide, are they worth it?