Training of associates. Everyone agrees it’s critical. But all too often, it’s left to happenstance. As I have discussed before, happenstance training often penalizes women and people of color. Older white partners gravitate toward younger versions of themselves when making assignments that serve as training.

Even beyond that, a “luck of the draw” training approach is pretty dumb, given the tight labor market.

Of course, some firms attempt to create training programs. But all too often, they are run by partners who would rather work on billable matters. And let’s face it, lawyers are trained to be teachers/trainers. Another option is to rely on videos. Also ineffective

Yet another approach is to require associates to go to fancy training programs put on by outside entities. These programs are expensive and time-consuming.

Enter AltaClaro. AltaClaro is an online, hands-on law firm training provider. It combines the need for associates to learn from life-like simulations with feedback from experienced attorneys skilled at training. And it’s all done online.

According to AltaClaro, “AltaClaro is the leading provider of interactive, experiential legal training. Our unique learn-by-doing and feedback model helps learners become practice-ready more quickly. It empowers participants from the world’s top law firms, corporations, and law schools to own their career trajectories while assisting enterprises to drastically reduce training costs.”

I talked recently at some length with the co-founder of AltaClaro, Abdi Shayesteh. Shayesteh is an interesting guy. He founded his first company at 17, selling clothing to fraternities and sororities. He sold the company, went to law school, and founded a fintech company. He sold that and went to work for Big Law.

He quickly realized that law school hadn’t really taught him very much about the practice of law. He also realized that young lawyers would learn best in an apprenticeship and guild system, which is impractical in today’s world. He told me said that the catch-as-catch-can system often used in firms was impractical. As Shayesteh puts it, “Success [in law firms] should not depend on luck.”

The more he thought about it, the more he also came to believe that teaching by lectures or videos was impractical. “You can’t learn to swim by watching videos,” as he put it. And leaving training to the lawyers in the firm was also ineffective. It was expensive (loss of billable hours) and inconsistent (some were better at it than others).

The AltaClaro training approach has three pillars: Learn, do, review

Shayesteh saw all this as an opportunity and put together AltaClaro in the classic ” I see a problem to solve approach.” The AltaClaro training approach has three pillars: Learn, do, review. The trainees first watch a one-hour video that reviews the legal principles involved in a particular substantive area. The trainees are then given a specific client a fact pattern that they must review. They have to mark up and redline documents and execute on what needs to be done with the fact pattern. While there may be gray areas to discuss further with the hypothetical client, but just like real work, the trainees identify those to discuss in the redline. The instructors then review the redlines and give feedback on three things: 1) did the associates spot the issues, 2) did they come up with practical solutions to those issues, and 3) did they use best practices when addressing those issues (e.g., best drafting technique, approach, and/or solution).  These redlines are all reviewed by AltaClaro’s team of experienced instructors who are attorneys skilled in the particular area.

The instructors review the solutions provided by the trainees in a group setting (ten trainees to a session). Input comes not only from the instructors but also from the students themselves. Shayesteh told me the goal is to create a safe place for the associates to ask questions, make mistakes, and learn. All of this is done over Zoom.

While I haven’t gone through the training, by all indications, it’s been a success. Shayesteh told me over 3000 associates have gone through the program, and AltaClaro has contracts with 30% of the AmLaw 200 firms. The program supplies some solid training and helps identify associates needing extra help. Let’s face it: it’s a lot more profitable to identify associate problems and correct them than to have an associate perform poorly and then end up terminating them.

AltaClaro started by offering the training to Amlaw 100 and 200 firms. It plans to expand the entities to which the program is offered in the future. It also plans to expand the subject matter offerings to litigation and ediscovery, as well.

In addition, AltaClaro recently announced a partnership with Mackrell International, an international law firm network. The plan is to offer prompt engineering training to the network members. According to the press release, “Participants will learn the key elements of effective, prompt engineering and how to apply these elements to any assignment using generative AI platform in a manner that is safe, ethical and consistent with professional standards.”

Mackrell network is composed of firms that have 50-300 lawyers. The network consists 90 firms for a total of 4000+ lawyers from those firms. From all indications, it’s a collegial group of firms that have similar cultures. So working together on a training program like that provided by AltaClaro should be a good fit. The training program will follow Alta’s same “learn, do, review” format.

Again, I have not gone through any of AltaClaro’s programs. But conceptually, it gets to a fundamental problem I have discussed before. The training issue is particularly acute since it is what most partners who insist on returning to the office demand focus upon. But many of those firms don’t really have formal training, or if they do, it’s done poorly. Bumping into a partner at the watercolor (do they still have those things?) is not a training program.

The program’s success hinges on the review process taking place in a safe environment where associates don’t feel self-conscious or defensive

I had to wonder, though. The program’s success hinges on the review process taking place in a safe environment where associates don’t feel self-conscious or defensive. I know from experience that this kind of process works well when the participants know and trust one another. I have served on the faculty of a trial technology program where we use a similar learn, do, review process. But most participants in that program know each other to start with, and the faculty members have earned their trust over time.

The AltaClaro program starts in a different place. Associates will naturally compete with one another generally. And since partners can attend the review sessions, it could make for a less than safe place.

I raised all this with Shayesteh. He assured me that AltaClaro recognizes these issues and works hard to ensure participants that the review process is a safe place. For one thing, the instructors are carefully vetted before they are selected. They have to be currently practicing and have practiced for ten years with an AmLaw 100 firm. The instructors themselves are put through a mock training session and must get at least 4.5+ stars on a scale of 5 from the participants to qualify. They are well compensated and are in the program because they like teaching and want to do it.

All in all, the AltaClaro program attempts to get at the thorny issue of associate training in a new and different way. I like the fresh approach and hope it succeeds. I have seen too many associates encounter career setbacks only because their firms didn’t take the time to provide sound training. That’s not fair to the associates and disadvantages the firm.

Thanks, Abdi Shayesteh, for seeing a problem and offering a solution.