ABA Techshow

First-year associates might understand technology, but that doesn’t mean that they understand their firms’ technology, which is often customized, says Betsey Frank, director of staff development and technology training at Sidley Austin.

Frank spoke Thursday at an ABA Techshow panel with Faye Jones, director of the University of Illinois College of Law’s law library and a clinical professor at the school. The panel, titled “Can Technology Competency Help You Get a Job?” took place at Chicago’s Hyatt Regency.

In April 2018, Sidley started a technology training program for new associates, which begins with a preassessment after their first week at the firm. Those with 90 percent or better on the preassessment don’t have to take the program, but it is open to everyone.

“We sold it as an opportunity to go slow at the beginning, to get skills and knowledge, so you are successful the next time that a senior associate or a partner asks you to format a document,” said Frank. “We put this as ‘this is something the firm provided to you, to be successful.’ It wasn’t meant to be punitive.”

The new associate training focuses on working with and accessing legal documents in the firm’s document management system, Frank said. Key software at the firm includes Microsoft Office 2016 and Windows 10.

For this year, 97 percent of Sidley’s first-year, U.S.-based associates took the program, and the firm is planning on doing something similar at its London office. Also, Frank would like to see similar courses for support staff and partners.

The panel was part of Techshow’s academic track, and while Frank spoke about Sidley’s new associate training program, Jones took questions from the audience, some of whom were law students wondering if they should include technology experience on resumés.

Partners in the audience with hiring responsibilities indicated that they should. Also, Frank said that programs like Sidley’s give new lawyers a good sense of what they already know about law-related technology and where they can improve, particularly for customized programs specific to a legal employer.

“I think a lot of first-year associates come in and think, ‘I know this.’ The preassessment allowed them to say, ‘Oh, maybe I don’t know it all,’ ” Frank said, adding that many associates who passed the preassessment still took the courses.

Follow along with our full coverage of ABA Techshow 2019.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Some law schools offer tech programs to help students find jobs, but does it work?”