Implementing Learning Management Systems at Law Firms


Learning Management Systems (LMS), long in use at companies and other professional services firms, are increasingly being implemented at law firms. An LMS provides an online “one-stop shop” for all firm training, regardless of audience (attorney, paralegal, staff), training vehicle (classroom, webcast, eLearning), or content (legal skills, sexual harassment, technology). Their belated adoption can be attributed to the convergence of several factors:

  • Attorney professional development and training are taking on increasing importance as clients are expressing concerns about the readiness of new Associates to practice law
  • Increased focus on attorney efficiency (e.g. to support fixed fee arrangements) suggests the need for attorney self-service and access to just-in-time training, anytime, anywhere, by any device
  • Legal technology vendors are now creating learning management systems tailored to the specific needs of law firms (e.g. Continuing Legal Education (CLE) tracking)
  • The spreadsheet-based method of managing learning is becoming increasingly burdensome, and increasingly dated given the available technologies

Without a doubt, moving to a Learning Management system is the smart move for firms with a significant training function. For all parties – attorneys, staff, firm leadership, and training administrators – an automated system reduces low-value manual work, increases self-service, and dramatically improves reporting and analytics.

However, implementing Learning Management Systems correctly does require up-front work, particularly given the fragmented and loosely-affiliated training functions at law firms. As in most technology implementations, the quality of your planning is the most critical factor in the success of your solution. Having implemented Learning Management Systems at top-tier law firms, I have gained many insights into the particular opportunities and challenges presented by the law firm training environment. This paper is intended to share my lessons learned in the hopes of helping other firms benefit from those experiences.

Benefits of an LMS

In case you are on the fence about whether an LMS would be beneficial to your firm, let’s begin with a brief overview of the benefits.

Benefits to Lawyers/Staff

The universal trend supported by technology is self-service. We no longer need bank tellers to give us cash, or airline attendants to print our boarding passes or tell us flight status. Likewise, law firm employees no longer should rely directly on humans for many of their learning requirements. An LMS puts all relevant training and status information in one place. Users no longer have to go to different places for classroom training, firm eLearning, to see their CLE status, and for externally-provided training (e.g. Practicing Law Institute’s CLE training).

A primary goal of attorney training is to reduce the ramp-up time for Associates to be client-ready over the traditional apprenticeship model. Used correctly, an LMS does just that. Learning Management Systems make training available anytime, anywhere, and by any device. As eLearning, and the use of short video vignettes (a la Khan Academy) increase, an LMS provides attorneys a platform for quickly finding and launching training. Are you a new Associate who needs to write a Motion to Dismiss? Go to your LMS on your mobile device and launch a brief video with a firm partner providing guidance on your firm’s preferred methods of how to do it.

As a supervisor or mentor, an LMS allows you to see the courses that your protégé has taken, consider his/her annual feedback and upcoming matters, and suggest a collection of courses that meet his/her developmental needs.

Benefits to Administrators

I recently spoke with an AmLaw top 20 firm who had a Partner leave to become a judge. The Professional Development group was asked to produce a list of every course this Partner instructed in his time at the firm. Having tracked training primarily through spreadsheets and emails, it took several members of the team two days to compile the list. Two days! With an LMS, that report could have been produced in two minutes.

Certainly, a primary benefit of an LMS to administrators is efficiency. Automating rote tasks, and enabling user self-service, frees up training administrators to focus on higher-value activities. HR administrators complain about the volume of calls they get from employees asking if they have completed a required course. CLE administrators spend much of their time tracking compliance amid multiple jurisdictions with changing rules (which is why many firms have moved to LMS’s for their CLE compliance, even if they still do not use them for other firm training).

Some of the “higher-value activities” referenced above are supported by the LMS. Certainly, data for analytics is a big one. An automated system allows access to reporting that you could never get through manual administration. Which courses or instructors are the highest rated? How many classes have been offered for a particular Practice Group or targeted at a particular competency? Which attorneys are in danger of missing their CLE compliance deadlines? Furthermore, an automated system facilitates assigning relationships between courses, so that administrators can build learning paths of courses that progress toward a certain developmental outcome.

Finally, an LMS is critical if a firm wants to be an external provider of CLE-credit training. Some jurisdictions, like New York, require a level of reporting that could not be done without the aid of a system.

Implementing an LMS

OK, so you are sold on the benefits and are ready to embrace the magic of the LMS. The (somewhat) bad news is that an LMS is not a turn-key system. I have spoken with a number of firms who purchased the product licenses, and then did nothing because they underestimated the amount of work required to get set up. In order to set up your LMS to provide maximum benefit, here are a few areas that require up-front consideration and planning.


When I began my first LMS implementation at a large law firm, I was shocked to find that the firm had seven separate organizations that conducted training: Legal Talent, Staff training, Technology training, Human Resources, Secretarial, Paralegal, and Litigation Support training. To a great extent, these organizations operated independently. The challenge, therefore, was in getting them all to agree on the configuration and administration of a common system. Items requiring agreement can include the naming/branding of the system, the labeling of fields, the design and wording of email, roster, and certificate templates, and the level of access provided to administrators. It may all seem trivial in retrospect, but has the potential to derail a project if not handled with care.

Your project should begin with the creation of a governance model, both for the project, and for the life of the system. Organizations underestimate the importance of this at their peril. Even if your firm’s intention is to roll out to attorneys first and deal with staff later, it is nonetheless important to develop a governance model that includes all stakeholders, and to collect all stakeholders’ requirements before you begin so that the initial system configuration reflects the needs of everyone. Furthermore, throughout the life of the system, there will occasionally arise the need to make global changes that affect everyone. You’ll want to have a mechanism in place for reviewing and approving change requests.

Naming Conventions

For most firms, establishing an LMS will introduce the concept of course metadata. You will need to define the data about courses in order to help users find them and help administrators to report on them. Without over-engineering, you will want to identify naming and numbering conventions that support your and your users’ needs. Examples of course metadata include:

  • Course name
  • Course number or code
  • Short description
  • Long description
  • Selection criteria
  • Pre-requisites
  • Course owner or point of contact

My primary lessons learned from previous implementations are:

  1. Determine and propagate guidelines for your course metadata without being overly prescriptive. Your goal should be to have a system that has general consistency. When a user looks at a long description, she should generally know what to expect (e.g. it will include learning objectives for the course). That said, it’s not worth being overly strict. You will likely end up with courses from multiple sources whose metadata you will not have control. So, go for general guidelines, not hard and fast rules.
  2. Use course numbers to distinguish between training providers. As noted above, the LMS will combine the offerings of a law firm’s distributed training functions. However, each group needs to manage and report on its own training. I have found that the course code is the best way to allow organizations to segregate their courses from the others. Depending on the reporting needs of your firm, you can go deeper to identify courses by practice group, technology, or competency addressed.
  3. Embed course metadata collection into your processes. This is one area where the LMS adds work for administrators. They may not have a process for collecting course metadata. You’ll need to define one.

Course catalog

Just as universities create core curricula, majors, and minors, an LMS supports a firm in grouping and characterizing its courses. Through the creation of learning paths, it helps you identify sequences of programs that build on each other to develop a particular competency. By categorizing courses, you help your users sort through your many offerings to find precisely the ones they need. Some lessons learned:

  1. Start simple. An LMS will open up a world of options. However, there can be a price to pay by trying to be too sophisticated. Characterizing courses in too granular a fashion may actually inhibit users from finding relevant courses. Likewise, the urge to put every course in some kind of learning path can be counterproductive. As your understanding of the LMS becomes more sophisticated, so too can your course catalog.
  2. Keeping #1 in mind, don’t just digitize your current catalog. This is an opportunity to take a new look at your course catalog. It can help you get out of your organizational silo and identify where there may be intersections, redundancies, and gaps. We don’t always have the chance to stop and reconsider long-held assumptions. Use the LMS implementation to do that with your collection of courses.

Technical Integration

You’ll want your LMS to be as integrated as possible with upstream and downstream systems. Some examples to consider:

  • HR and/or Financial system. You will want to pull data from whichever are your systems of record for data such as group membership, career level, bar admissions, start dates, etc. Any aspect of someone’s profile that you would like to report on needs to be available to the LMS
  • Outlook – for sending notifications and putting events in user’s calendars
  • Meeting room system – so an administrator can go to just one system to reserve a training room
  • eLearning providers. When the LMS is integrated with an eLearning provider, it will pass user credentials to the eLearning site to enable seamless access to online training

Process Integration

An LMS should change the way your firm administers its training. However, if you do not take the time to map out how your training organizations should integrate the system into their learning process, you will not realize many of the efficiencies that the system offers. Do you currently have a process for sending emails to attorneys to notify them of new courses, upcoming courses, CLE requirements, or to ask for their feedback? These are all tasks that can be more efficiently handled by the system. Approach this part with an open mind and willingness to be flexible. The system may force you to change the ways you currently do things. If you can adjust, you will benefit.

User Adoption

If you’ve ever implemented a technology at a law firm, you know the challenge of attorney adoption. The best-laid plans for allowing attorneys to serve themselves can always be thwarted by technology and change-resistant Partners. As in other law firm change projects, the traditional guidelines apply:

  • Demonstrate the benefits. The ability to identify CLE requirements and immediately launch a training program to satisfy an urgent requirement is a big selling point for attorneys.
  • Mitigate the biggest risk. The use of an LMS does not eliminate the need for an effective CLE coordinator to monitor the system, ensure the rules are up-to-date, and oversee compliance. You need to have that individual to spend some of their time ensuring that attorneys remain in compliance.
  • Get buy-in from firm leadership. The business case for a Learning Management System is strong. Don’t hesitate to share it with firm leaders and enlist their support.
  • Design the system to be simple, intuitive, integrated, and easily accessed. Moving to an LMS does not have to be a radical change for users (it will be more so for Administrators). For example, if attorneys currently go to the firm portal to see a training calendar, you can easily integrate that calendar with the LMS so selecting a course in the portal automatically takes them into the LMS.
  • Leverage secretaries. While self-service is the ideal, secretary-service can work too! In most cases, secretaries can manage their attorneys’ training through the LMS on their behalf. One thing to watch out for – if the LMS is integrated with your performance management system, you’ll want to ensure that secretaries don’t inadvertently gain access to their attorneys’ performance reviews.

Reporting and Analytics

Once you have implemented an LMS and administrators have come up the learning curve on how to use it efficiently, you may have the tendency to relax and consider the project complete. Don’t do it! One of the biggest benefits of an LMS is the ability to do real reporting and analytics. This is an opportunity to assess the quality of your instruction and your instructors. It allows a data-driven analysis of who is taking training and whether the training is developing the desired competencies. The challenge for this part of the project is that there will be a gap between your initial implementation and the time to analyze the data that the system collects. Schedule some time six months after your implementation to validate that you have the right reports, and to start using those reports to support decision making.


There is a reason why Learning Management Systems are ubiquitous in the corporate world – they provide improved training experiences for users and increased efficiencies for administrators. Law firms have a further imperative that is met by an LMS – the tracking of CLE compliance. So, I am pleased to see that law firms are beginning to implement LMS’s, or are expanding their CLE systems to include all firm training. By committing to some up-front planning, bearing in mind the specific idiosyncrasies of law firms, and adopting the best practices documented above, law firms can implement systems that produce happier administrators and better-equipped attorneys and staff.

Michael Lowe is the President of HardingLowe (, management consultants to law firms. He can be reached at: