Skip to content

7 tips for successful legal team workshops

Running legal team workshops effectively is an essential skill for legal project managers and legal process improvement professionals.

In this post I put legal team workshops in context and give 7 tips about how to run them successfully.

All this is based on my experience (that’s me in workshop mode in the image above).

I have been running training courses and workshops for legal teams since 2012, and I hope less experienced legal team workshoppers find the tips useful.


What is a workshop?

I consider a workshop to be an informal gathering of people, where participants are guided through activities designed to help them:

  • acquire new knowledge
  • solve problems
  • practice a new skill.

The emphasis on each of the above will very, reflecting needs of the participants.


When and where do legal team workshops occur?

  1. During training courses: for example, when I ask students to perform tasks in connection with legal project management or legal process improvement, these are short and focused workshops.
  2. During matter delivery: facilitated workshops are great for team problem solving – and every project team encounters problems of some sort during project (matter) delivery.
  3. During legal process improvement projects: I suspect this is where workshops occur most often in legal services.  Getting teams to agree on current state processes (i.e., what happens now) and future state processes (i.e., what should happen in future after the processes under investigation have been improved), is commonly done via workshops.
  4. As part of legal service team development: workshops can help legal service teams develop and improve, often by focusing on one area such as communications or trying to implement some specific change in processes or behaviour.


The importance of facilitation skills

To run workshops successfully you must develop good facilitation skills.

A discussion about facilitation skill development deserves a blog post itself (I will write a post about this, and in the meantime you may want to look at the excellent State of Facilitation Report – 2024, from Session Lab).

In this post, I will limit myself to a few observations about the facilitator role.

  1. It is not the facilitator’s role to find all the problems and suggest potential solutions. The team must do this, while being guided and encouraged by the facilitator.  Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) can be facilitators, but they must be mindful of their role as facilitator.
  2. Facilitators should keep an open mind and have a genuine sense of curiosity about the work the team does and everyone’s role within the team.
  3. Good facilitators develop their own toolbox of techniques and approaches. This includes everything from a tried and tested set of open-ended questions and prompts to activities for participants to do during the workshop.
  4. In addition to the above, a good facilitator must also be able to assess workshop progress and be confident enough to deviate from the workshop plan if the needs of the group require it.

Now as promised, seven tips for running a workshop event, whether it be during training or a live project.


Tip One: Research issues before running a workshop

This is not so much a tip – more an essential requirement!

You must do some research before the workshop begins to work out how best to plan and deliver the workshop.

I always ask people what they want to achieve from training and workshops, and then try my best to make sure their goals are met.

Whenever asked to run a workshop about a specific topic or problem, I always ask the workshop sponsor if this topic or problem has been looked at before in the organization.

With legal process improvement, I have often found there have been attempts at improving processes previously but they have been unsuccessful.  Anything you can find out about earlier attempts at legal process improvement by the organization concerned is gold-dust.  Knowing what has worked in the past should inform your workshop approach.

As a result of your research, you should create some artifacts which may be useful during the workshops.  For example when looking to improve processes, I like to create a high level process map of my own before any workshop.  This lets me become familiar with the process and provides a good starting point during the workshop (see below).


Tip Two: Engage attendees before the workshop

The engagement here should go beyond the informal conversations you have had already.

The most obvious way to engage participants in advance is to send them the workshop agenda (you will create an agenda, won’t you?).

But you can do more – much more – to help with getting people engaged and ready to participate in the workshop.

For example, I send my trainees a short pre-course self-assessment questionnaire about their legal project management or legal process improvement skills and experience.  I read and note the completed questionnaires and consider how I can best approach each individual concerned.  By completing the questionnaire participants must consider the training and workshopping in advance and so hopefully they will start to feel engaged ahead of the session.

I also send participants any other background information I think may be helpful.  The background information is likely to result from the research I conducted earlier.  For process improvement projects this means my high-level process map.  Everyone I have spoken to in legal services agrees that it’s much better to begin process improvement workshops with a draft process map which the team can critique and build on.  For many reasons, starting a legal service workshop with the fabled ‘blank page’ is much harder, more time consuming and less productive.


Tip Three: Set workshop scope and expectations

You must put boundaries around your workshop in advance, otherwise different participants could each have widely different views about what can be achieved.

Establishing high level and realistic scope should be straightforward.

When training, the workshops should be related to topics covered.  The purpose of the workshops here is to deepen trainee understanding and give them foundational skills so they can apply their new knowledge in practice with confidence.

Alternatively, if your workshop is part of a process improvement project, you can scope by saying that during the workshop we will look at a process starting from point X (for example, from receipt of new client instructions) to Y (sending out the client care letter).

Once you have set scope, you must then also set expectations.  The best way to do this is to consider what you can control and deliver.  Saying you will run a workshop where participants will investigate problems and suggest solutions is more realistic than promising that by the end of the workshop team processes and behaviours will have definitely changed.


Tip Four: Workshop structure – from general to particular

I like to structure workshops so they progress from the general to the particular.

What I mean by this is that usually in the first part of workshops I want to encourage participants to generate lots of ideas about problems and solutions.  As the workshop progresses, I direct participants towards more specific lanes of consideration.

So, for example brainstorming potential solutions could be followed by inviting participants to consider what is needed to make the solutions work.  For example, will there need to be changes in people’s behaviour, supporting processes or supporting systems?


Tip Five: Be concise and provide clarity

I will be the first to admit that when you have a lot of material to cover during training and associated workshops it’s difficult to stop talking!

However, for the workshop parts, you must be brief and be ready to hand over progress to participants.  So briefly explain at the outset the aims of the workshop and its structure.

If you are running a workshop with several activities, there is no point in explaining all activities at the start of the workshop; this will take too long, and you will need to repeat parts of it anyway right before each activity starts.  In this case, provide a concise explanation of each activity immediately before each activity begins.


Tip Six: Maintain momentum

The easiest way to maintain momentum is to have a workshop structure where topics and activities have a natural progression.

When training I like to develop participant understanding by starting with foundational ideas of legal project management and legal process improvement and then adding complexity and depth as the training progresses.  The associated workshop exercises follow this progression.

When running process improvement workshops in legal service organisations I run activities to help participants:

  1. Acknowledge and identify problems
  2. Propose potential solutions to the problems identified
  3. Prioritise potential solution development
  4. Work on solution development.


Tip Seven: Follow-up

After the workshop(s) you must follow-up with participants.

The easiest way of doing this is to remind them about what they achieved during the workshop.

Rather than simply remind participants, it’s better to show them.  So for example, you could show them photographs taken of any flip-charts used and walls covered in post-its.

Also spend time after the workshop converting workshop ideas into artifacts which can be used in the real world.  If for example during one workshop activity participants generated a checklist, with each item of the checklist recorded on a post-it note, you can convert that checklist into a document which can then be sent to participants after the workshop.

Depending on the nature of the workshop you may also want to secure commitment from participants that they will follow up and maintain momentum.  Keeping with the checklist example, you might want to secure commitment from participants to apply the checklist whenever possible over the next few weeks, until you hold another short workshop so participants can review the effectiveness of the checklist.


Why legal team workshops should work for you

Facilitating legal team workshops is challenging but also stimulating and rewarding.

I have found workshops to be an effective (and enjoyable) way of encouraging participants to acquire new knowledge, develop new skills and improve personal and team productivity.

If you would like to find out more about legal team workshops, and how they can help you and your team, please contact me.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This