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Building an Open and Continuous Learning Oriented Culture with Priyancka Dastur from Khaitan &

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

Define Workplace Learning in the context of the legal industry. What are some areas you focus on? 

Workplace learning in context of the legal industry is all about how well lawyers understand and apply the law that they learn in law school. The on-the-job training enables them to learn from each other’s experiences, watch and learn from their seniors, their clients and from every transaction they are a part of. It’s all about having that ‘solution oriented’ approach and coming with the most innovative yet practical solutions for your clients.

As a lawyer by qualification and someone responsible for L&D at a law firm, I instinctively tend to focus more on legal and technical skills, ensuring that our lawyers excel at the law and stay updated at all times.

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If you’re not updated, you’re not relevant” – lawyers need to be updated with developments, even if it is not in their field of specialisation

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Our inhouse training sessions, what we call CLEs – ‘Continuing Legal Education’, focus on just that. They are designed to keep our lawyers abreast with legal developments and give them the platform to engage with and learn from each other. In law schools, they are taught the law and at the Firm, we focus on training them how to work the law and live under it.

We are of course mindful of the fact that client expectations have changed. A lawyer’s role today is not merely that of a legal advisor but also as a business consultant and more importantly of a trusted advisor. A 21st century legal practitioner is expected to invest in non-legal training, focus on developing negotiation skills, transaction and client management skills, business development skills, have a fair understanding of the clients’ business, sector/s they operate in and most importantly have that commercial/ business mindset.  Training in these areas and building the required sector expertise is also what we focus on.

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Lawyers are extremely busy, with each minute being valued in money. How do you tackle this to help employees find time for Learning & Development?

Making time for learning and self-development is a challenge for every professional today. While CLE calendars are put in place for the entire year, we do see last minute dropouts and low attendance but that’s primarily because inevitably lawyers do get pulled into urgent client calls, meetings and deliverables.

L&D is one of the parameters taken into consideration during a lawyer’s performance appraisal. We have put in place a CLE Credit Policy that sets out certain number of minimum credits that required to be accumulated by lawyers every year. We would like to believe that this works as an impetus and encourages them to take time out of their busy schedules for these training sessions.

We also ensure all our CLEs and training sessions are live streamed and recorded. Lawyers who miss sessions can then watch them on-the-go and at their convenience. Self-directed and self-paced learning works best. Most importantly, if lawyers see value in the training that is imparted, they make time for it no matter how crazy their work schedule is. It is on us to deliver high quality training sessions and make it worth their ‘billable hours’.

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How much does the culture of the organisation affect workplace learning? What can be done to enable a learning oriented culture?

Needless to say, the culture of an organisation plays an extremely important role in ensuring continuous learning and encouraging people to operate with a growth rather than a fixed (‘I know it all’) mindset. It definitely emanates from the top – our senior lawyers and partners are truly invested in the growth and development of the younger lawyers. They encourage and support us in all our learning initiatives. As a Firm, we believe in sharing knowledge and learning from each other’s experiences.

I think to enable an open and continuous learning-oriented culture it is important to:

  1. Value learning and recognise it as a path to mastery. Let people know that it is okay ask questions, take risks and make mistakes. This will only further collaboration, sharing of knowledge and an open mindset to learn and grow without any inhibitions or insecurities.

  2. Lead by example or ‘walk the talk’. For a continuous learning culture, it is important to have the buy in of key stakeholders / leaders and also ensure that they themselves practice what they preach. A leader’s behaviour often influences the team’s performance and approach to learning. If the leader wants the team to read or pick up a new skill, the leader ought to know it or learn to do it himself.

  3. Evaluate performance based on learning. Recognise and reward people invested in not only in their growth and learning but also their peers.

  4. Give meaningful and constructive feedback. It is hard to acknowledge that you need to learn or be open to learning when you are unaware of your limitations and areas of improvement. Feedback even if negative, is important to share.

  5. Make learning easily accessible. Adult learners have different styles and preferences when it comes to learning. Some prefer face to face, some online, some blended. It is important to offer a bouquet of options to learners if you want them to stay tuned in!

What are some of the initiatives you have rolled out at Khaitan & Co. and found success with?

Over the years, we have tried and tested many learning initiatives in different formats. There are a few key learning programmes that we try and organise every year. Together with our senior members as internal trainers, we have some outstanding external faculty empanelled with us to help design these programmes for an impactful learning experience. Other than the CLEs which focus on the hardcore legal training, some of the other areas/ initiatives we focus on are:

  1. Onboarding Programme – Pathfinder: Our onboarding programme for the campus graduates is quite exhaustive. Sessions during the weeklong onboarding are run by internal and external speakers who help these young lawyers transition and make that mindset shift from campus to corporate – helping them learn new skills as they start afresh. Associates at each level are supported as they transition from one level to another – with clear expectation setting.

  2. Legal Writing & Drafting: An essential skill for every lawyer today. This is something we do for all junior associates. While we used to do these sessions in person until lockdown, we are trying to move to virtual sessions and get some e-learning content on it too.

  3. Negotiation and Client Communication Skills: The importance of this skill set cannot be emphasized enough. We have been working with an external trainer for the last five years now who runs these sessions for our mid to senior level lawyers in person / online and they are extremely well received.

  4. Business Etiquette & Cross-Cultural Skills: While all the legal and functional skills take precedence, the importance of soft skills cannot be overlooked. Our lawyers interact with some of the most high-profile domestic and international clients. As brand ambassadors of the Firm, it is important that they demonstrate the right business etiquette, understand different cultures, make intelligent conversations and conduct themselves with poise and sophistication.

  5. Some other areas in which we organise learning programmes on are networking and business development for lawyers, law firm economics, how to win and retain clients, leading teams and delegating effectively.

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How do you use technology to build an effective continuous learning experience for your employees? 

  1. In-person and classroom sessions have always worked best for us. But given how busy our lawyers are and of course the ‘new normal’ we are living in today, we have recognised the importance of technology in learning.

  2. Since lockdown, we have all learnt to adapt to learning via platforms like MS Teams, Webex and Zoom. From one-hour CLEs to full day workshops and orientation programmes, we have done it all. Our inhouse IT team has been terrific in these trying times, supporting us, and coming up with new solutions to keep us engaged and connected at all times! We work very closely with them to identify the right learning systems and technology we can use to enhance learning experiences.

  3. Creating e-learning content inhouse is also in the pipeline. This year infact, together with the weeklong virtual induction sessions for our campus batch, we are also exploring an Onboarding App for them which will be launched prior to their official joining date. Policies and processes are being gamified and weaved into a storyline on the Firm, our culture and values to make this as engaging and fun for them. We are hoping this will be well received and prove to be a valuable investment by the Firm.

  4. Adopting legal-specific new technology, replacing out-dated, older systems with cloud-based solutions and being open to automation helps us be more efficient, not just for ourselves but also for our clients.

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3 wishes for an HR Genie

  1. Become more tech-savvy, and automate every single HR and L&D process available

  2. All organisations start considering L&D as an investment in their people and not a cost center

  3. Give me the power of the HR Genie!