Training needs in a post-lockdown landscape

Edward Cooke

 The global COVID-19 pandemic has seen massive changes in the family justice sector, certainly in the short-term, with potentially long-lasting effects. With these changes, the need for professional development has never been greater. Edward Cooke, who chairs Resolution’s Training and Learning Committee, and runs his own family law practice in Chichester, West Sussex, looks at the changing face of training.

 How has COVID-19 changed Resolution’s approach to training?

 It’s been a time of rapid change for us all, and when lockdown hit, we obviously had to cease all face-to-face training, including our showcase National Conference, which was due to take place 2 weeks after lockdown.

 Thankfully we’d already been laying the foundations for delivering more online training, in response to our members’ needs pre-lockdown. We launched our new website last year, which incorporated our online training hub we’d launched the previous year. As soon as lockdown hit, our approach shifted almost entirely to online, practically overnight, which we’ve decided to make available to all members as part of their membership fee.

 How have you decided what training to deliver?

 It’s really centred around what our members need. We’re fortunate at Resolution to have many active members, and lots of engaged committees, developing ideas and delivering training. This means we’ve got leaders in their fields coming up with content, and responding to what’s happening in the sector right now. These experts can work with the Training and Learning Committee and Resolution staff to deliver high quality training online, quickly.

 Covid has obviously changed the immediate training needs of our members, and we’ve run some innovative sessions in response; from a series of webinars on International Family Law during lockdown, to making family mediation work online. We’ve calculated, based on the number of CPD hours of training available, that each member is able to access approximately £5,000 worth of online training already, with around another £1,500 being added every month.

 How has Covid changed your outlook on training – both as a committee chair and as a practitioner?

 It’s not been without its challenges. You do lose those additional, hard to measure aspects of face-to-face training – the networking, the socialising, those organic conversations that take place over coffee.

 But it does bring huge advantages as well. People are able to access training at a time that suits them, they don’t need to travel – sometimes huge distances – to attend, meaning they’re spending less time away from the ‘office’. It means we’re able to deliver more training to more members more easily.

 As an example, we recently ran our finance update– which we’d normally run at National Conference – online. We broadcast it live, and around a thousand members registered to view it. Of course you miss out on the other aspects of a conference, but in terms of simply training and acquiring information, it’s a massive boost for professionals.

Where do you think the biggest challenges lie in working online?

In my own firm we’ve focused a great deal on identifying training on essential skills. This was valuable pre-Covid, but it’s absolutely vital now. With more client meetings happening over video calls now, those skills around non-verbal communication are critical to success. It’s much harder to read body language, to manage conflict, and the psychology of divorce is made even more challenging if you’re not in the same room.

It’s the same with negotiating effectively, advocacy skills, and mediation – even if you don’t go on to be a mediator, understanding how you can better manage conflict can benefit us all, and that need is even more acute when working online. If we’re truly focused on delivering better outcomes for families, then increasing and diversifying our skillset becomes crucial.

What do you think training will look like once we’re ‘back to normal’?

 I think there’s a massive amount of uncertainty as to what normal will look like, and how soon we’ll get there, but those factors aside, I do think being able to access a wide breadth and depth of different training will be crucial for professionals. The fact that so many have now got used to learning and working online means there’ll be much more of this in the future – and I’m proud that Resolution’s been able to deliver so much training for members so quickly given the enormous changes we’ve all been dealing with.

 The advantages and hidden value of face-to-face training means that won’t be gone forever, though. We all need human interaction, we need networking opportunities, we need to socialise – but where training is predominantly about the transfer and sharing of knowledge, that lends itself more naturally to online delivery and we’ll be seeing much more of that in the future.

 So my message to practitioners is: don’t get left behind. Look at what training is available, particularly on the Resolution website; look at the needs of your whole team; and stay ahead of the curve. Family justice is in a period of huge change – it’s time for everyone to unlock the world of online training.

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