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Creating a Firm-Wide Business Acumen Program at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati

How WSGR created a business acumen training program designed to appeal to everyone.

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati wanted to respond to growing demand from clients and lawyers that the firm help its lawyers develop even stronger business acumen.

“Not only do our clients expect our lawyers to have strong business acumen, but the lawyers themselves, from first years to partners, want to have as strong an understanding of clients’ business needs as possible,” said Sally Raggio, Professional Development Manager at WSGR. “We therefore wanted to create a program that would appeal to everyone.”

Objectives

The firm had a few main objectives for the program:

  1. Include content for different experience levels. They wanted to teach the basics of accounting and finance, like understanding a balance sheet, as well as more advanced topics for people with extensive business backgrounds and knowledge.
  2. Run more engaging live training sessions. Like many firms, WSGR wanted to move away from lectures in favor of more engaging live training programs.
  3. Support lawyers across the firm. With offices around the world, they needed to make sure that that everyone had access to good content, no matter when or where.

Meeting the Objectives

The firm successfully introduced a firm-wide business acumen program earlier this year. Below is a look at what they’re doing and how they’re meeting their objectives.

Development of a firm-wide business acumen curriculum

To make sure there’s content for different experience levels, the firm created a business acumen curriculum with topics organized by level of complexity. The curriculum was the result of collaboration between WSGR’s professional development team and its global education committee.

The most basic topics, such as an introduction to financial statements, are part of a “100-level” series of topics and more advanced topics, like Business Economics for Managers, are part of a “300-level” series of courses.

This structure gives people the ability to opt in or out of particular topics and training sessions based on experience, interest and availability.

Using blended learning to make live training programs more engaging

As part of the firm’s efforts to move away from lecture-based training, they collaborated with Hotshot and The Dickie Group to run flipped classroom training programs on financial statements.

Here’s what they did:

  • The Dickie Group was engaged to deliver a live training session on financial statements at WSGR’s Palo Alto office
  • Before the session, attendees watched Hotshot’s short videos on financial statements
  • People came to the live session with an understanding of the key concepts, which meant that The Dickie Group was able to do more than just lecture about the basics
  • After the live session, people went back to the Hotshot Accounting & Finance content to reinforce what they learned and to watch more advanced courses

“Blending learning can be very effective in teaching finance to lawyers,” said Ray Wilson of The Dickie Group. “Associates come to the live sessions with a basic knowledge, regardless of their background.  This allows us to focus on more advanced topics in the live sessions, bringing more value to everyone.”  

Making resources available firm-wide to ensure scalability

Additional benefits of supplementing the live sessions with articles and videos are that anyone, anywhere, can access the material.

The reality is that not every office can run every live session, so the firm-wide availability of the resources ensures that everyone has the ability to learn what others are learning. This helps make the program scalable and affordable, but it also supports just-in-time learning.

“It’s in its early days, but we’ve been thrilled with the feedback on the program so far,” said Michael Nordtvedt, a WSGR member and co-chair of the firm’s education committee.

For more on designing and implementing a business acumen curriculum see this post.