From the Trenches:
Tips on Law Office WordPerfect Training

by Kendall Callas

"If I was given eight hours to chop down a tree,
I'd spend the first six sharpening my axe."

Abraham Lincoln's legendary experience chopping down trees taught him a worthwhile lesson -- there's more to getting a job done than just selecting a tool and applying effort. If you've joined the technology revolution and implemented computer tools, you've realized (or will soon) that you can't just clear desk space, plop down the machine, and say "Here's the manual -- good luck!"

1. Communication is key.
As early as possible, emphasize good two-way communication. Whether installing computers for the first time or switching from Wang to WordPerfect, realize that a change in such a basic work tool creates stress. Survey users to gather ideas and solicit suggestions of training topics and tasks ripe for automation; use the opportunity to calm fears, set realistic expectations, and provide adequate notice of the changes ahead. Not only will you harvest valuable ideas and learn of useful resources, but by encouraging input and making your people feel involved they will emotionally "buy in" to the transition. Improved attitude reduces frustration and negative behavior; foot dragging and gripes about how "the old way was easier" are common and costly.

2. Allocate at least 10 percent of your automation budget (hardware plus software) for training. It's difficult to estimate training needs in the abstract, there are so many factors that come into play -- experience, learning ability, motivation, goals ... But a ballpark number is better than none: Plan to spend at least $200 per user for WordPerfect training.

A typical program might offer this much WordPerfect training: 4-8 hours for attorneys and managers; 8-15 hours for paralegals and secretaries; 15-30 hours for key users who will support others in advanced tasks.

Those who supervise computer users should receive general training to give them an overview of the software and equipment, and specific training to help them understand the time required to perform computer tasks and their vulnerability to error.

3. Don't stint on training.
Training achieves business goals. One of the real-life facts of computerization is that productivity will initially nosedive as learning is sandwiched in between regular work tasks, morale takes a beating, and some tasks must be run in parallel (the old procedure side-by-side with the new procedure), duplicating effort. Training helps reduce the short-term drop in productivity due to these first two factors. Training also serves as a periodic shot in the arm, boosting morale by rewarding staff with resources to make their jobs easier. Investing in your people increases loyalty and productivity, reduces mistakes and turnover.

4. Give students a chance to ask questions.
Audio/video tapes, tutorial software, and books are useful adjuncts to training, but their linear approach presents a problem. Adults -- lawyers especially -- want input and control. Only a live instructor can adjust the pace and content to feedback from students and provide the immediate gratification and responsiveness of learning by question-and-answer. When learning with co-workers, some people just won't ask questions, so a trainer who can watch for furrowed eyebrows and blank stares is valuable. Guiding group discussion so that lawyers can learn from the experiences of other lawyers is also extremely effective. Small groups allow an instructor to identify and fill gaps in the knowledge of users who already have experience; they'll die of boredom if they have to sit through a fixed curriculum.

5. Don't dump training responsibilities on an unprepared employee.
Appointing a knowledgeable employee as trainer has drawbacks. That person may not be able to devote a whole-hearted effort due to the press of other work duties, and may even resent the added burden. Furthermore, training requires more than just subject matter expertise; clearly, a race-car driver wouldn't make the best driving instructor. A good software trainer has not only deep experience with the program in a variety of settings, but instructional skills, the right attitude, and -- most of all -- patience.

If you must use an employee to lead in-house training, be sure to reward your appointed instructor with perks, money, or at least prestige. Make sure to lessen other duties and allow time for preparation -- as much as 20 hours per class hour.

6. Put effort into creating effective training materials.
To prepare for training, create a lesson plan with realistic examples. Make training more effective by leaving with students cheatsheets and reference materials.

7. Let users voluntarily sign up for training, then draft the rest who need it.
For many reasons, people who need training often don't ask for it. Few employees want to admit ignorance. Job applicants often tell employers they "know" a program even if their exposure is limited. Many users are simply unaware of advanced features that would be useful to them; they don't know enough to know what they don't know. Self-taught users often have gaps in their understanding of the feature set and have learned inefficient techniques to get by. Moreover, most users are caught up in the press of their day-to-day work and short-sightedly underappreciate the value an hour's training now will yield over the years to come.

Sign-ups for training should be coordinated by a member of your staff with a good understanding of who does what, so that appropriateness can be monitored. A receptionist, for example, doesn't need graphics training. Undertraining and overtraining are both wasteful. If possible, develop a checklist of features that should be mastered by those in standard job slots.

8. Understand your needs and focus on specific goals.
Most firms introduce computers to help achieve higher long-term profits through increased productivity, improved quality of work product, faster response, and new capabilities. Training should be targeted to achieve these specific goals.

In designing your training program, decide which of these goals each user needs to emphasize. Heavy users should receive extra doses of productivity training; those in high stress or high turnover jobs should get specialized training; attorneys and others who generate original text should learn more about features that can improve the quality of work product.

9. To improve productivity, teach users how to accomplish a task in less time, and how to speedily accomplish multiples of a task.
Include WordPerfect features for efficient cursor movement, paragraph numbering, printing and previewing, retrieving and copying documents, using multiple documents at the same time, working on blocks of text (including cut and paste), speeding up repetitive tasks (macros and merging), encapsulating text and formatting codes in an easily changed and repeated form (styles), and index/table of contents/table of authorities.

10. To reduce turnover (and boost productivity) provide training to lessen computer stress.
Focus on ergonomics to help user avoid pain and health problems. Increased insight into computer basics will help users avoid frustration and also improve their ability to employ computers as efficiency tools to respond quickly to deadlines. WordPerfect training for this goal should prepare users to learn on their own, including use of the on-line help function and index to the manual.

11. To improve the quality of work output, training should include these topics:
spell check, thesaurus (for users who create original text), fonts, symbols, comments, math, tables, sort/select, the Find feature for work product retrieval, graphics, and importing text from other programs (as appropriate to students' duties).

12. Prepare early for training.
Make policy decisions as early as possible. How much keying will attorneys perform? Will attorneys type in first drafts, or will they be limited to editing what secretaries have typed in from dictation? Will attorneys be allowed to finalize documents, or will secretaries perform the final formatting and printing? Will the firm try to reduce secretarial staff after the system is rolling, perhaps slimming from a ratio of 3/1 attorneys per secretary to 2/1? Answers to these questions affect the amount and focus of training.

On a more technical level, optimize your default settings before training to avoid confusing changes later. Decide on units of measure (inches or typewriter-style), long or short (DOS) filenames, "ragged right" or full justification, the default font, and if you'll use document summaries.

Thoroughly test equipment and functions prior to training. Hitting a bug during a training session derails momentum, deflates confidence, and wastes the time of the entire group. In particular, check printing, print preview, fonts, and how underlining is displayed.

Optimize each workstation with color dots (for the Shift, Ctrl, and Alt keys), a color template (a black and white photocopy will not do), macro cheatsheet, copy holder, glare screen, monitor pedestal, etc.

13. Train promptly.
Take advantage of the "new toy" excitement that hits when the machines first arrive; begin training as soon as possible after the machines are fully functional. (Do not begin training before students have a machine to practice on.)

Some firms take a 'penny wise, pound foolish' approach and wait a couple weeks or months before beginning training. They seem to think that time or money is saved by letting employees stew for a while and attempt to learn basics on their own. Self-training on computers is slow, inefficient, and frustrating; encourage users to run through tutorial software or workbooks first, but begin training as soon as possible to avoid wasted time, lost files, and damaged morale.

14. Train on-site.
If possible, train users within the office to save transit time and add realism by using the same printers, keyboards, documents, directory structure, macros, and logon procedure that students will actually work with. Off-site classes do prevent distractions, but it's a shock for students to transition from the sheltered environment of a classroom back to the chaos of the office; learning in the environment in which they will later perform significantly improves the carry-over of skills. On-the-job training also lends itself to tailoring and eases scheduling.

15. Deliver training in phases.
Start with the bare minimum. Build success. Don't give advanced training to all, just those who need it -- when they need it. Remember the "Law of Forgetting" -- 90 percent of new skills are lost if they aren't used within 30 days. It's rarely worthwhile to heap intermediate/advanced features into your initial training.

16. Arrange short, digestible sessions.
Don't waste time and money on full-day sessions. One or two hour sessions offer best comprehension. After that, absorption declines as students' eyes glaze over and worries mount about the phone messages and deadlines that wait on their desks. Short sessions are easier to schedule, less fatiguing, and leave some time and energy left to get the day's work done.

17. Emphasize practice.
The real learning takes place after class. Make sure supervisors lighten the work load of students so they can practice. Studies make clear the importance of shielding students from work pressures while they make the transition from classroom to work place. Most users don't take full advantage of their software because they didn't have time to practice and learn it thoroughly.

With short, periodic classes, it's more likely that students will practice between sessions, and come back with meaningful questions and requests to review specific topics. The result is learner-directed training with meaningful feedback to the instructor so the next session can be adjusted to learners' needs, rather than dictated by a rigid lesson plan.

18. Use common sense in grouping trainees.
Group students according to experience, ability, and target level of functionality. A personnel clerk should not be in the same class with a tax attorney. Try to keep the power structure out of the classroom; including bosses in a class with their subordinates generally increases anxiety and inhibits learning -- and this goes both ways. If you can, train attorneys separately from staff, older lawyers separately from younger lawyers.

19. Plan training groups to manipulate relationships between co-workers.
Especially if your training sessions will utilize one workstation for two students ("PC buddies"), use the opportunity to help employees mix, overcome conflicts, and forge bonds.

20. Use examples meaningful to each group of trainees.
Students learn faster with examples drawn from their work and training wrapped around real projects. Ask students to bring examples from their work (tables, forms, mailing lists, etc.) to use in class exercises.

21. Hire temps with WordPerfect skills during your transition period.
In addition to allowing workload slack for the staff's training and practice time, they can help answer the flood of simple questions that training will stimulate.

22. Plan and develop an effective set of macros.
These keystroke shortcuts will reduce training requirements and users need to be instructed in their use. Integrate use of your macros into the training. Create a macro cheatsheet for user reference. Also create a macro that displays a help screen which includes the macro cheatsheet.

23. Reward skills in significant ways.
Make this explicit in your personnel policy. Offer improved compensation or time off -- or at least recognition -- to those who achieve specific levels of skill.

24. Reward those who show early interest.
Setup a "menu" system for immediate gratification from which interested employees can select tutorial programs or games. During the transition, allow games to encourage keyboard/mouse skills and screen awareness; this is especially useful for users who can't type.

25. Create a library.
Gather a library of training tools, resources, and reference materials. People learn in different ways, so accumulate a variety of tutorial software, audio/video tapes, workbooks, third party online help software, quick reference cards and booklets, books, manuals, and magazines. A typing tutorial is a worthwhile investment. Use these tools to encourage self-training for hard-to-schedule users.

26. Plan extra training and resources for key employees.
To assure success, keep in touch and deliver extra support to senior lawyers, executives, hesitant users (often older and male), and influence leaders.

27. Publish scheduled consulting hours.
Schedule times for your consultant or whiz kid to answer questions and help with projects. This will reduce frustration and encourage users to save up their questions, making best use of limited tech support resources. Visibility of support will also hearten your hesitant users.

28. Visit one-on-one.
After initial training, offer one-on-one visits by your trainer/consultant at each workstation. Some people just won't ask questions in public. Individual visits will also allow focus on specific work tasks.

29. Follow-up.
Offer refresher courses, workshops to reinforce skills, and "clinics" to develop advanced needs. Specific topics might include: fonts, styles, math, columns, tables, sort/select, index/table of contents/table of authorities, merging, graphics, advanced macros.

30. Sponsor in-house user group meetings.
Lunch time brown bag format works well -- spring for sandwiches to boost attendance. User groups work best if they are scheduled regularly (2nd Tuesday, 3rd Wednesday, etc.), avoid Mondays and Fridays, and start and end at announced times. Make sure the meetings are well-publicized.

31. Publish a help directory.
Publish a phone list of skilled users who will answer questions. If possible, indicate areas of expertise. Don't list attorneys or high-level staff -- they have work to do! This list is also a good way to give recognition to star performers. Don't forget to also publish WordPerfect Corporation's several toll-free tech support phone numbers.

32. Encourage a whiz kid.
Grow your own in-house consultant. Most offices have someone who has learned more and faster than other users. Cultivate and train this employee. Discourage attorneys or high-value employees from filling this role.

Copyright (C) 1993 by microCounsel, (415) 921-6850. All rights reserved.

[ Home Page | Articles List | Top of this article ]