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Flipping the Classroom at Goodwin

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Legal training can be flat and boring, but one law firm that’s at the forefront of modern training methods is Goodwin. I caught up with Caitlin Vaughn, Goodwin’s Professional Development & Training Manager, to discuss the firm’s use of the “Flip the Classroom” method as part of their move towards a more interesting and engaging training program.

Why try “Flipping the Classroom?”

Associates attend a lot of training sessions, so Goodwin uses different training methods to break up the monotony and to appeal to different learning styles. “We realized that people learn in different ways,” Caitlin says, “and while visual learners might benefit from a PowerPoint, experiential learners need more interactive methods.”

Caitlin Vaughn

Flip-the-classroom sessions are a way for associates to both test their own knowledge and learn from one another in a more deliberate way. Goodwin believes that this method has the added benefit of recognizing and reinforcing the practical, on-the-job learning that associates are already doing before the training.

(For more background on this training method, you can read our post about it here.)

Which topics are Goodwin flipping?

“Much of what junior associates do is process driven,” Caitlin explains, “so training sessions that focus on providing a practical path for doing something rather than just disseminating knowledge are particularly helpful.” That’s why Goodwin uses the flipped-classroom technique for topics like due diligence, disclosure schedules and closing checklists, all in the context of a corporate transaction. These sessions facilitate a dialogue on best practices, demonstrating that there is often more than one “right way” to do a given process-based legal task. Through talking about the process, associates are exposed to the underlying judgment calls and decision making that happen as well. This is essential because, as Caitlin puts it, “you can force feed facts, but it’s harder to teach someone how to think about problems.”

How does Goodwin structure flipped-classroom training?

In advance of the live training session, Goodwin associates review materials such as Hotshot videos, quizzes, related exercises and actual transaction materials. They’re told to come to the training prepared to discuss the materials as well as any challenges or questions that have come up.

Mid-level and senior associates act as facilitators for the live training sessions and are given the option to watch the videos and look at any other materials the associates reviewed in advance. They’re told the underlying structure and goals of the training and may choose to bring additional scenarios or questions for the group.

At the live session, the facilitators and associates are broken into small groups. The participants then talk through the exercises and materials, using them as a framework to discuss practical tasks. Sometimes, the solutions generated by the small groups are then shared with the larger group.

Feedback and lessons learned

Associates, especially the more junior ones, give Goodwin’s flipped-classroom approach higher scores than traditional training. “They tend to be in the sharing economy already,” Caitlin says, “so they find this type of knowledge sharing helpful.”

Goodwin has also learned a few valuable lessons along the way:

  • It’s important to consider and discuss the underlying structure of the training with the facilitator. Otherwise, you may end up with a great discussion that doesn’t ultimately reach your educational goals.
  • Try to anticipate the next steps so that the classes build on one another in an actionable way. This may mean drilling down on the same topic for more nuance or tying in an exercise with more structure on a complementary topic. It’s important to look across topics to make connections. For example, a session on the basics of disclosure schedules may be a good follow up to a session on the basics of due diligence, since drafting disclosure schedules and performing due diligence are closely related.
  • Remember that associates are busy, so pre-training assignments shouldn’t be too onerous.
  • Sometimes a hybrid flip-the-classroom approach works best, where the “pre-training” learning is done at the beginning of the session. This is because it takes the pressure off of associates who may not be as comfortable with the subject matter when they walk into the session. In Goodwin’s experience, “A little framing helps them feel more comfortable interacting.”

Erin Shinneman is a lawyer formerly with Gunderson Dettmer who worked with Hotshot to help create their Venture Financing topic.