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Cyril Shroff explains ideas, details behind CAM’s new 2-3 day learning programmes for fee-earners, clients

CLE has mostly been a bit of an afterthought, particularly since there’s no professional obligation to continue learning after college
Yellow robes will presumably optional at CAM’s legal gurukula
Yellow robes will presumably optional at CAM’s legal gurukula

Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas (CAM) has launched a continuing legal education (CLE) initiative, which will see up to 30-40 of its fee-earners, as well as in-house lawyers and clients take two to three full-day practical in-depth courses on specific areas of law.

The first session, focusing on corporate law, is scheduled for July and has around a mix of around 15 “partners of the firm and outside faculty” lined up as faculty. CAM hopes to hold four such sessions for different verticals this year, managing partner Cyril Shroff told us by phone today, though in future he hoped that according to the next annual calendar, “there’ll be something going on every month”.

“It will have a benefit both internally as well as for our clients,” explained Shroff. “It creates common standards for our training platform.... There’s nothing like this in the market: once you leave the campus you’re sort of on your own. At many of the tier 1 firms, including our own, the post campus set of learning is very ad hoc.”

As such, the initiative would not be open to lawyers from competing law firms at present, he added, though some students from campuses would be attending.

The programmes, which the firm has united under the CAM Gurukul umbrella moniker (gurukula are an ancient Indian guru-led residential schooling system), include one stream dubbed “Paathshala” for 0-5 year qualified lawyers, “Vidyapeeth” for its mid-level fee-earners and “business professionals”, and “Vichar-Sammelan”, targeted at “senior client representatives”, according to CAM’s press release.

The programmes are conducted under the “overall leadership” of Shroff and coordinated by its head of learning and development, Vaibhav Ganjiwale, and “mentored” by London-based ex-Allen & Overy global training head Rita Dev, according to the release.

We asked Shroff what the difference was between this initiative and the seminars or workshops that many law firms, including CAM, regularly offer. “Seminars are very short,” he responded, “usually a couple of hours or half a day. But they don’t go for a practical [approach]”.

CAM’s programme would involve deep dives into transactional and legal documents, coupled with study notes, text books, homework, as well as online learning, he said.

The client events were aimed to be held separately from the fee-earner sessions, he said, but would be of a similar duration and could sometimes be combined with the fee-earner sessions so they’d “have an opportunity to learn together”.

As an internal education and business development this certainly makes some sense. In India, unlike in other jurisdictions, CLE is not mandated by the regulator, but could this lack of a professional edicts to continue learning mean that there won’t be many takers?

“The bigger problem will be keeping people away,” Shroff joked, adding that “the maximum learning happens in a class 30”.

“We already have a CLE system [but for Gurukul] we are relying more on the pull factor: people will want to do this. CAM training will mean something,” he added.

And if it proves to be popular, how will the firm manage partners who can’t spare their associates for two or three days during weekday crunchtimes? “We’ll cross that bridge when we come,” said Shroff. “There will be repeat opportunities - if you don’t catch this one, you’ll catch that one. It’s always a question of prioritisation of work over this. But in my experience [it will work out in practice].”

Early learning culture days

That said, some competing firms may scoff that they have been doing CLE for ages. Nishith Desai Associates (NDA), for instance, notwithstanding its blue ocean strategy suggesting it does not compete with others, has long prided itself on practically mandatory early-morning learning sessions for all lawyers, held at least weekly, and has recently opened a beach office in Alibag, in part, to encourage fee-earners to study and learn more.

And we understand that Platinum Partners, for instance, particularly in Mumbai under ex-Mumbai partner and chief evangelist Nihar Mody, had tried to integrate CLE tightly into its DNA and invested heavily in it.

But while there will be probably several other firms quietly active in the CLE space (including presumably CAM up until now), those firms would also be the first to share that it’s not easy getting CLE right and really creating an internal culture that values learning over billing.

As such, CAM speaking about learning and putting its money where it’s mouth is, can be welcomed as a progressive move by a big firm to do more about learning, which can only help the wider ecosystem in the long run.

Photo by Parmarth Niketan Ashram

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