Sidley Austin is No. 6 in the 2016 LearningElite.
by Andie Burjek
May 16, 2016
With 1,900 lawyers in offices around the world, Sidley Austin has a large, diverse client base and a concentrated focus on developing lawyers and leaders who deliver world-class service. As such, the law firm is committed to consistently improving its learning strategy.
“Our learning strategy — to equip our lawyers and staff to serve our clients at the highest level, on their most complex legal matters, across our global platform — is designed and aligned to support three imperatives: talent, teamwork and results,” said Jody Rosen Knower, chief training and professional development officer at Sidley.
Assisting clients in different countries and time zones on legal matters requires a lot of resources and expertise, but Sidley’s well-developed workforce is able to do so with an exceptional level of service.
To ensure people acquire the knowledge and skills they need, the firm offers about 1,000 educational programs per year. These continuously reviewed and updated programs vary from a local to an international focus, from face-to-face, one-on-one coaching to all-inclusive e-learning modules, from introductory to advanced-level content.
The variety of curricula offered is designed to appeal to different learning styles. Learning leaders found that blended formats with different delivery methods get the best results. Further, to stay ahead of the learning curve, Sidley does ongoing needs assessments to discover gaps in skills and knowledge.
“Through direct observation, thoughtful inquiry and demonstrated receptiveness to input and feedback, we remain attuned to our constituents learning and development needs,” Knower said.
Sidley uses its learning strategy to drive efficiency, to promote service excellence and to gain a competitive advantage in winning and retaining clients — and it works. For example, to drive efficiency, the firm reduced the time it took to open new client matters so that work could begin more promptly.
This past year, Sidley automated its new business intake process and created a multi-tiered, global learning strategy, including instructor-led offerings, educational videos and more. As a result, the average time it takes to open a new matter decreased to two days from five — a 60 percent decrease. By allowing lawyers to service clients more quickly, the firm met it’s goal to improve client service.
Sidley’s leaders also support a learning culture, and the learning team engages and communicates with them in several ways. For example, members of the learning team have ongoing, informal meetings with senior leaders to make sure the learning strategy aligns with the overall business strategy.
In 2015, the firm introduced a more formal approach to achieve this alignment, introducing face-to-face, structured meetings between leaders and training liaisons so parties could identify unmet needs, share tools, promote learning resources and determine follow up steps together.
In the next year, Sidley hopes to further improve its learning by enhancing firmwide integration, which relates to its teamwork imperative, and by focusing on development more than training, which relates to its talent imperative. Learning brings people together, and firm leaders have found their work to be a potent force in deepening professional relationships across both generational and geographic differences.
Sidley also plans to focus less on training and more on development by fostering a coaching culture with enhanced feedback and improved critical career conversations.
“We take great pride in making [training] as relevant, effective and engaging as possible,” Knower said. “However, we see development, not training, as the differentiator in making Sidley a truly great place to work and the firm of choice for our clients.”
Andie Burjek is a Chief Learning Officer editorial intern. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com