Academic journal article St. John's Law Review

Applying Learning-Styles Theory in the Workplace: How to Maximize Learning-Styles Strengths to Improve Work Performance in Law Practice

Academic journal article St. John's Law Review

Applying Learning-Styles Theory in the Workplace: How to Maximize Learning-Styles Strengths to Improve Work Performance in Law Practice

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

As a lawyer, you are part of a complex web of relationships when servicing clients, and you can maximize your potential by thinking in terms of interacting with others as part of the same team. Furthermore, as an employee, you can pay attention to your learning-style strengths so that you can work productively and efficiently. Alternatively, as a manager, you can communicate in ways that assist employees in terms of their diversity of learning styles.

Neither all employees nor all managers think or produce similarly. Business consultants and researchers inside and outside of the United States are applying learning-styles theory to the business setting and finding that employees and managers appreciate understanding how their workplace functions in this new light. An American company, Performance Concepts International ("PCI"), consults with businesses by assessing individual learning styles and then linking the knowledge gained to individual and team performance. The workshops conducted by PCI consultants actively engage participants by using interactive techniques designed to capitalize on individuals' learning strengths and productivity preferences.

The use of learning styles has been developing in Sweden within the last ten years.1 The Swedish Learning Styles Center works with companies desiring individualized training, and learning-styles training provides that approach.2 The Center conducts six-day courses for each company. Within this elongated week, the participants perform designated tasks within their own companies. The Center assesses and helps interpret the participants' learning styles. Then, the participants are trained how to use this knowledge, to do "homework" in their own companies, and to evaluate their own tasks. Tactual materials are adapted and used, as are kinesthetic methods.3

How can you, as a lawyer, make use of theories concerning team approaches, emotional intelligence, and learning styles? How can you, as a manager of a law practice, improve your firm's performance? By understanding two premises: (1) that lawyers, regardless of the size of their practice, work in tandem with others and would benefit from team approaches; and (2) that law firms are composed of individuals with unique learning styles who do not always work well in teams or pairs.

Part I of this Article explains how the individual benefits from effective use of a complex web of business relationships. In Part II, the Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Model is summarized. Part III applies the Dunn and Dunn Model to a law practice from the perspectives of both the associate and the manager.

I. THE INDIVIDUAL IN A COMPLEX WORKING ENVIRONMENT: As A LAWYER, You ARE NOT ALONE AND WOULD BENEFIT FROM UNDERSTANDING LEARNING STYLES

As a lawyer, you do not practice alone. Not even in a solo practice. Whether the legal work involves corporate matters, trusts and estates, litigation, bankruptcy, intellectual property, or real estate, you provide services to others. In doing so, you often collaborate with other lawyers to produce the written product, agreement, argument, or opinion. In addition, you are probably interacting with or assisted by a secretary, paralegal, law clerk, or court clerk. Lawyers, like employees in a corporation, are individuals but invariably are involved in a complex web of relationships with others to produce a service or a product for clients. So even if you are not team-oriented, it is necessary to learn how to work well with others who are likely to have different learning-style characteristics from your own.

Peter M. Senge, in his popular book The Fifth Discipline,4 points out the value of being cognizant of your colleagues, and of yourself, by describing "team learning."5 With team learning, the "intelligence of the team exceeds the intelligence of the individuals in the team."6 Senge explains the benefit of the team approach:

Individuals may work extraordinarily hard, but their efforts do not efficiently translate to team effort. …

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