The Science of Legal Training - 3 Steps to Conduct a Training Needs Analysis

Before anything elsepreparation is the key to success.” - Alexander Graham Bell

Nothing is more important to legal training than preparation. A well researched, planned and executed training presentation will always be more effective than one put together at the last minute. 

Okay, that sounds great, but I'm extremely busy. In my limited time, I've put together an updated PowerPoint (with new case law!) on last year's "Basics of Intellectual Property" presentation. 

Is that good enough?

I wish it was. 

Science tells us the way training is designed, delivered and implemented has a huge effect on employee engagement and concept retention. Because of this, it's important that corporate counsel not only spend the time to prepare for legal training, but also prepare in a very specific way. 

That "way" is doing a Training Needs Analysis ("TNA")

A TNA allows corporate counsel to think clearly about (1) What type of training is needed, (2) Who needs training, and (3) How employees should be trained. 

After you complete the 3 steps I'll detail below, your TNA will help you answer the "What, Who, How" by helping to detail (1) training expectations, (2) guidance for training design and delivery, (3) ideas for training evaluation and (4) information about your company that may help or hinder the training. 

These critical determinations must be analyzed in detail before you can create effective legal training. 

Let's jump right in.

1. Conduct a "Job Task Analysis" ("JTA")

The first step to conduct an effective TNA is for corporate counsel to do a JTA. 

(Blame the social scientists for these abbreviations, not the lawyers). 

JTAs can be as complex as you'd like them to be, but in essence, the goal of a JTA is to understand the systematic critical work functions of employees' jobs.

Unfortunately, this is not as straight-forward as it may seem. To corporate counsel, it may feel like a big value-add to provide training on the basics of trademarks to the marketing team. But when you pause to actually think about marketing's critical work functions (advertising, public relations, marketing, promotions, etc.), you begin to understand that trademarks training may not be valuable to everyone (e.g., a web developer, promotion planner, etc. who have very little use for understanding how to design a new product logo). 

It's important to do this analysis. Science tells us it's critical to distinguish between content that employees "need to know" versus content employees simply "need to access" as humans do not have limitless capacity to retain information - especially highly technical information.  

Corporate counsel are obviously familiar with the concept of "need to know" versus "need to access" as their jobs rely on the distinction every day.

Do you need to be able to issue spot during an executive meeting? Yes. You need to know enough general information to issue spot. 

Do you need to be able to recall the particular wording of a customs regulation related to a certain tariff? No, but you need to know where and how to access that information. 

The concept is the same for employee training. The JTA allows corporate counsel to understand what information truly needs to be incorporated into legal training (and to what degree) by understanding systematic critical work functions for groups within the company. 

This is step 1 in the TNA process. 

2. Organizational Analysis

The next step to create an effective TNA is to analyze strategic alignment between your training and the company's organizational goals. 

This is called an "Organizational Analysis."

The goal of an organizational analysis is (1) to prioritize the company's training goals (even if those are not written down in any internal policy), and (2) to understand whether the company is "ready" to receive and support the training provided  by corporate counsel.

I've previously touched on the importance of getting manager buy-in by understanding how to link your training to the company's goals (See3 Winning Strategies to Secure Business Buy-in for Legal Training). It is absolutely critical to align your legal training to the company's strategic goals and organizational needs. Without this alignment, your training may be perceived as a waste of time

Additionally, the science behind organizational analysis tells us understanding the company's environmental readiness to legal training is critical to better outcomes. This means corporate counsel must identify and remove obstacles to training effectiveness such as lack of manager support, lack of training resources, etc. 

Ultimately, enhanced commitment by managers to goal-aligned and properly-prioritized training leads to more motivated and self-efficient employees. 

3. Conduct a Person Analysis

The third and final step to create an effective TNA is the "Person Analysis". 

The goal of a person analysis is to identify specific employees who need training and what those specific employees should be trained on. 

In order to reach this goal, the person analysis requires corporate counsel to identify (1) who performs the critical work functions you're targeting and (2) who has (and who doesn't have) the requisite competency in this area (i.e., who already has the training)?

The person analysis is based on the principle of limited resources. It is assumed that companies do not have unlimited resources to train employees, so it is important to prioritize efforts to protect the company from the highest risks. 

Corporate counsel likely already know the basics of this issue. 

It's why we strongly recommend training for every employee on non-discrimination and anti-harassment but not contract negotiation. 

Once corporate counsel identify employees that need training, the second part of the person analysis is determining whether there is any particular training content or method that may facilitate learning in that particular group. 

For example, if your person analysis comes up with a group of people all under the age of 25, you may want to consider mobile, video-based training.

Ultimately, by doing the person analysis you'll end up with a list of trainees and an effective method to train them. 

Final Thoughts

Preparing legal training by doing a training needs analysis is an absolute must for corporate counsel.

By using the 3 steps above, you will know the "What, Who, How" in order to provide effective and properly aligned legal training for employees that will be perceived as a value-add by the company. 


Resources: Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S., Kraiger, K., & Smith-Jentsch, K. (2012). The Science of Training and Development in Organizations: What Matters in Practice. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Jun;13(2):74-101 - Link to Publication.