What is your role at Norton Rose Fulbright, and your background with the firm?
I’m the Senior Learning and Development Manager for our Australian region. I actually started with the firm in London (I lived there for about 10 years) back in early 2013 as an L&D Manager, which has given me the opportunity to visit many of our offices around the world to deliver our training programs. At last count I’d visited 13 offices, which is obviously an unlucky number, so I need an opportunity to start travelling again!
What do you see as the role of L&D?
I genuinely think that L&D plays a critical role in helping to shape the culture of the firm. So many people have told me that they value the unique culture at NRF, and it’s something that I keep in mind when working with our lawyers and other professionals on their personal and career development. Ultimately, our role is to support and enable the firm’s strategy through learning, but we also drive and support the firm’s culture and strive to ensure that all of our people can be successful.
What makes L&D at NRF stand out from the crowd?
When I returned from London in late 2017, I spent a short time at another very successful firm. And whilst their L&D function was developing a great new strategy, I missed the extensive range of L&D initiatives that NRF offers (e.g. Mental health programs, Unconscious bias training, Cultural awareness sessions, to name just a few), so when the opportunity came up to re-join the firm here in Australia it just felt right. Everything we do is targeted at the professional/business skills, and work effectiveness skills (IT-based programs), that people need at different times in their career, and we design and deliver the majority of our programs in-house.
We all know that lawyers have a busy work schedule, how do you structure training to ensure they can balance their work with their learning?
Some of our programs are two or three days long (International Academies), as they also provide an opportunity for lawyers from different teams and offices around Australia (plus our Jakarta office) to network and get to know their peers. Lawyers typically attend one of these sessions every couple of years, and people feel that the commitment is extremely worthwhile. Outside of these programs, most of our training is delivered in shorter formats, which lawyers say that they appreciate. For example, our professional skills masterclass series is delivered over lunch time (food is provided when face to face!), or via Zoom (which supports remote working and/or cuts out the travel time). The majority of our IT training sessions (e.g. How to get the best out of Zoom) are kept to 30 minutes.
What are the International Academies and how are they structured?
The International Academies are exactly that, international. By that, I mean that all of our lawyers around the world experience the same training programs, no matter which jurisdiction they are in. There’s a lot to learn in the field of law, both technically and from a business perspective, and essentially lawyers face the same challenges all over the world. These programs focus on the business aspect (commerciality, leadership, business development etc.) and the interpersonal skills that are required to be a go-to lawyer. Lawyers have different needs at different stages of their career, so these programs (typically 1-3 days) are delivered to the junior lawyer cohort, mid-level lawyers, senior lawyers, and also partners.
What if I join as a Senior Associate having missed the earlier IAs?
Not a problem! We have a catch up program for lateral hires to ensure that they have the opportunity to experience the full suite of topics.
Is any other training offered outside of the International Academies?
Yes, a lot! We have a suite of professional skills masterclasses (presentation skills, confidence building, personal branding etc.) which are offered to all staff, as well as to many of our clients. We also run bespoke team sessions, and have two trainers who are dedicated to the IT training space (examples include Marking up documents online, iPhone apps training etc.)
Do you find that any of the masterclasses are more popular than others?
That’s a good question. All of them are well attended, so we find that we need to schedule each of them multiple times a year. However, our Learned optimism session is probably the most popular. I’m also super pleased to see so many people attending our Mental health awareness sessions these days. There’s a real desire from our staff and clients to increase their mental health literacy.
How is your training content produced?
Over 90% of our training content is produced in-house. The L&D team is a truly global cohort, and we share new developments and ideas across the regions regularly. Of course, we are not experts in everything, so there’s a handful of specialist topics that we outsource. But most of the time, we will do our own research (the team is encouraged to read and stay relevant), and most of us are experienced in instructional design.
Are there any new training materials in the pipeline?
With COVID-19 having an impact on the wellbeing of many people, we’ve recently launched a new masterclass called strategies for effectively managing stress. We’ve also been updating a number of our business development and leadership modules this year, to keep them relevant in an ever-evolving world. Of course, there’s some other topics being researched at the moment, but they will remain a secret for now!
What question do you find that lawyers ask you the most?
There’s really no easy answer to that question. Everyone tends to have different challenges and aspirations, which keeps things interesting for us in L&D. That said, there does seem to a common theme that pops up. Many lawyers are eager for advice on how to manage their manager/partner. i.e. managing upwards appears to be a common challenge Thankfully, we can help with that by coaching them how to approach people who may have a different work style to their own.
Was there ever a day when things just did not go right?!
Yes, definitely. L&D is not just about coaching and training others to learn new skills and behaviour. You could also call us event managers, which can be a much more complex skillset to acquire than many people might think! There’s been numerous occasions when our plans have needed to be changed at the last minute. There was a time when I was travelling interstate for a lunchtime session and I’d left what I thought was a helpful time buffer in case of any delays. Little did I know that fog would descend on Sydney overnight and cause a three-hour delay to my flight. Thankfully we were able to reshuffle everybody’s diaries that afternoon and push the session back a little (but not without plenty of stress and frustration at the airport!)