3 Things I Learned About Legal Training from Making Chicken Tortilla Soup

I love cooking. 

Regardless of how busy we are, my wife Saige and I try to make time to cook as often as possible. Our favorites include (1) the chicken tortilla soup mentioned above, (2) a (spicy) chili-garlic rice noodle dish with tofu, and (3) grilled turkey burgers. 

Believe it or not, there's something (well, at least 3 things) cooking chicken tortilla soup can teach us about legal training.

And yes, the recipe is added below!

1. Preparation is key

Great chicken tortilla soup is complex. And the key to its complexity is preparation

Without proper preparation, your tortilla soup will taste like raw, spicy onions. I've made that mistake, and trust me, you don't want any part of it. 

There are a number of important techniques to use when preparing chicken tortilla soup, but one stands above the rest. You absolutely must toast the dried ancho chilies in a pan before hydrating them in hot water. Toasting the chilies draws out the essential oils which will give your soup the complexity you crave. 

Taking the time to properly prepare your chilies makes all the difference in a great tortilla soup.

Similarly, good preparation for legal training is one of the most critical steps you can take to ensure its success. 

Whether it's conducting a Training Needs Analysis to determine the best presentation methods for your employees, or creating the best environment for legal training, corporate counsel need to take time to toast the chilies before jumping into a presentation. 

Another way to prepare is by finding great media, such as TED Talks or clips from The Office 

2. It takes a while for training/flavors to sink in

Do you ever wonder why it takes so long to make a great soup?

Why can't you just warm up all the ingredients and serve?

As you'll see in the recipe below, great chicken tortilla soup needs time to simmer. Simmering the vegetables, meat, stock and spices allows wonderful flavors to develop. You just won't get those flavors without giving it time

Similarly, why don't employees understand how to conduct themselves after 1 PowerPoint presentation?

Here's why: it has been estimated that less than 10-15% of training is retained by employees 1 year after it's presented. 

Like flavors in soup, legal training takes time to sink in. Regardless of how great your legal training materials might be, it's going to take a number of additional sessions and reminders to reinforce training. 

3. Don't stop with the presentation

Corporate counsel shouldn't stop legal training with the presentation.

It's important we take steps to transfer legal training to the workplace by creating post-training implementation tools and processes.  

Creating these "add-on's" to legal training is absolutely critical to your success. If you simply give the presentation and walk away, it's likely most of the information will be lost within days. 

Here are some simple training add-on's I've done in the past: 

- created "cheat sheets" for employees to keep at their desks

- drafted a document detailing a new legal process

- 1 on 1 follow-ups

Our chicken tortilla soup is no different - add-on's are essential

You lose a lot of the soup's magic if you don't garnish with lime, queso fresco and avocado. A base soup can be great, but a great soup is reinforced with great garnishments. 

I believe cooking teaches some important life lessons about preparation, passion, and focus. 

And, even if you don't cook, I urge you to try the recipe (below) and see for yourself!

Joel's Ancho Chili Chicken Tortilla Soup (feeds 4-6)


  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken, cut in strips
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 3 dried ancho chilies 
  • 3 on the vine tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 T corn starch
  • 1 can sweet corn
  • 2 avocados
  • 2 limes
  • Queso fresco (or feta cheese)
  • 1 1/2 T salt
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 T Penzey's Arizona Dreaming seasoning (or chili powder, onion powder, paprika)
  • Tortilla chips, for garnish (if desired)


  1. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. 
  2. Saute salted and peppered (to taste) chicken breast in pot until cooked all the way through. Set aside.
  3. Toast ancho chilies in a saute pan for 3 minutes on each side (or until chilies are soft to the touch). Place in bowl.
  4. Boil 1 cup water and pour over ancho chilies in bowl. Cover with towel for 20 minutes (or until chilies are re-hydrated). Once re-hydrated, take seeds out of chilies and set chilies and chili-water aside. 
  5. Blend tomatoes, onions, garlic and deseeded chilies in a food processor until semi-chunky. Consistency should be like applesauce. 
  6. Place blended tomatoes, onions, garlic and deseeded chilies in soup pot used to cook chicken. Heat and boil for 5 minutes. 
  7. Add chili water, chicken stock, cilantro, corn starch and spices (minus salt) to pot. Simmer 5 minutes. 
  8. Chop chicken into bite sized pieces and add to pot with corn.
  9. Simmer for 30 minutes.  
  10. Add salt to taste. 
  11. Garnish with lime, queso fresco and chopped avocado. 
  12. Enjoy!