Ian, a recovering corporate lawyer with a JD from Hofstra Law School, met Chris, who earned his MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, at the Practical Law Company. Now the two have used their collective experiences and applied it to legal education and training with Hotshot, a digital learning platform for the legal industry. Hotshot offers a new model for legal training to provide on-demand, high-quality, videos and related resources for lawyers and law students. We caught up with Chris and Ian recently to talk about their motivations for building Hotshot, what they’re up to now, and where they’ll be next. Hotshot was named most innovative legal education company at ATL’s inaugural innovation competition. Law lawyer.
The legal marketplace is changing fast. As law firms and clients revise conventional viewpoints, there are distinct opportunities for legal service providers to inject new products into that marketplace that law firms are more likely to accept now than they were even a couple of years ago. Nelson opines that “the market really started changing in terms of what clients expected, not wanting to subsidize attorney training anymore” — which means that law firms would have to find a way to provide better tactical training for their associates, at a reasonable cost. Couple that with what Wedgeworth and Nelson helped promote when with the Practical Law Company, that there are “generic starting points” for many things, and the two reasoned that, if law firms can accept generic templates (as they do with Practical Law), they should be able to buy into the proposition that there’s a level of information that everyone needs when it comes to training, and firms shouldn’t be spending their time and money creating training content that everyone needs (and which is essentially the same across firms and schools).
It turns out, they were right. Or, as Nelson puts it: “There’s this fundamental business point, which is…a reverse triangular merger is a reverse triangular merger. The concept is the same in any firm.”
But what’s been missing from law school and law firm training since time immemorial has been a modern, engaging model for teaching law students and lawyers practical legal concepts in a memorable way. And so, Hotshot moved beyond the traditional lecture model. As Wedgeworth relays: “In our research we kept seeing this concept of digital learning: short videos, interactive apps, you know, even YouTube. And we just thought, ‘Wow, here’s a really interesting opportunity to take what’s really transforming how people learn to an industry that hasn’t really adopted that yet.’ And that’s why we started Hotshot in the way that we did, as opposed to a more traditional, bootcamp style business.” When applied at the organizational level, Hotshot’s content enables firms to “flip the classroom,” which is becoming popular with firms and schools.
A flipped classroom reverses the traditional learning environment. In a flipped classroom, instructional content is reviewed outside of a physical classroom space, usually online. That allows for interactive activities to make up the majority of classroom time. In other words, homework — where lessons are actually applied — reverts to the classroom, and locks in instructor participation in the process. Wedgeworth suggests that this allows students — or, in this case, associates — to spend better quality time with their instructors. Wedgeworth continues: “So, in a legal setting, someone might say, ‘Alright, we’re going to do a class for the first year M&A associates on deal structures. So, watch this Hotshot video, look at the Hotshot exercise and come prepared to discuss this in the in-person session we’re going to have.’ The feedback on that approach is really good. It’s a new way of doing things that attendees really like. The facilitators really like it, too.”
At the individual level, Hotshot provides “just in time” learning — similar to how someone pulls up a YouTube video to learn a new skill exactly when they need to learn it, an associate or law student can watch a short Hotshot video at their specific point of need. Nelson says that Hotshot is trying to generate videos that are similar to “the best mentoring sessions you’ve ever had.”
Why be a lawyer
Going Beyond Legal Skills
Law schools have traditionally focused on training lawyers on substantive legal skills — you know, the kind of information that would-be attorneys need to pass the bar exam. Of course, that leads to the rude awakening every new associate experiences, when asked to actually do something with that rote knowledge. That’s led to an environment in which law firm clients (especially corporate law firm clients) are demanding that attorneys improve their practical business and technology skills. Or, as Nelson explains it: “ There’s a real serious push in the market now from clients that their lawyers have stronger business acumen. And by that, when we say ‘business acumen’ at Hotshot, we’re referring to, for example, reading financial statements. Understanding valuation, for example. Lawyers today need to know how accounting and finance applies in practice.”
Nelson also admits that lawyers need to have a better understanding of even the most basic technology; and so, Hotshot is focused on offering practical training on frequently used technology tools, too.
Wedgeworth says that: “T he thing that came out most clearly was that with the day-to-day technology tools, like Microsoft Office… [that’s the] kind of thing that attorneys struggle with, and that clients get really frustrated about — the fact that the lawyers just don’t know this stuff. And so, actually, we were very surprised by this, that the number one request in that area was Excel training.” And, like any good business owners, the guys at Hotshot took advantage of that opportunity. “ So we actually developed this topic called ‘Excel and Data Analysis,'” Wedgeworth continued. He said that the course “covers the basics of Excel for people who are just afraid of it. And then we get into some more advanced concepts, too.”
And, while Excel may not be the sexiest training topic around, the need for it in the legal industry is clear. As Wedgeworth says: “ These law firms were saying, basically, that all of their clients use Excel. They sent us Excel spreadsheets. And, you know, if you’re doing a venture deal for example, you need to know how to use Excel so that you can calculate the exact number of shares to issue and the exact price per share to two decimal points.”
But Nelson and Wedgeworth aren’t bringing new professional development models to legal all on their own. “Everything we do is customer-driven and market-driven,” says Nelson. Wedgeworth continues: “Our content prioritization is very much driven by our customers. We have an advisory board. We talk to our customers a lot about what they want.”
Hotshot’s content team takes the time and space necessary to do a deep-dive into the content-building process. Wedgeworth describes their modus operandi as follows: “ The customers give us a lot of input into the scope. So what should this topic cover? And in fact, we have quite a formal process where before we even start writing any content, we write the scope document, which says: This is the objective, this is broadly what we’re going to cover, and here are the courses we think we’re going to develop. And that gets a lot of review and editing from our customers.” And that process can get fairly granular, especially when Hotshot works with practice groups at large law firms to develop training programs that suit their specific needs.
It’s also clear that Hotshot’s learning tools support efficiency and workflow management. Wedgeworth talks about how Hotshot can allow the entire legal team, including staff, to get a much better sense of, and maintain their bearing within, larger projects: “We’re often asking: What’s the process or the steps in litigation, so that when people are doing one small piece of work within that process, they can see how it fits into the bigger picture; and, that’s quite motivating for people.” Once Hotshot has its scope and process down, they only work with experts to create their learning modules. That means that, while lawyers may write scripts, professional actors deliver them. Or if the focus is on a technology topic, they’ll find an expert in Excel to create the substantive content. “We’ve decided that we want to hire experts in the various areas, expert presenters to present the content and expert lawyers and others to write the content,” Nelson says.
In the end, Hotshot is just a smart business decision for a law firm purchaser. Or, as Wedgeworth puts it: “Professional development and practice leaders realize that it’s much more cost-efficient for them to outsource some of their professional development materials to us and focus their precious resources on things that are more specific to the firm. We work very collaboratively with our customers.”
As any platform developer knows, the platform has exponential possibilities. Hotshot has already developed more than 130 courses across legal, business, and technology topics, and will look to expand its offerings, alongside its partner law firms, and growing coterie of experts. Their customers include Am Law 100 and 200 firms, law schools, and firms located around the world.
The work of a lawyer
Nelson says that: “We’re seeing a real interest and demand in lawyers better understanding their clients, in terms of their businesses and their industries. So, we’re working on a suite of courses that will teach lawyers about different industries. So financial services, technology, life sciences, a whole bunch of different industries.” In this way, Hotshot will continue to bridge the gap between lawyers and their clients, in new and exciting ways. Wedgeworth also sees Hotshot wading into “blockchain and AI, stuff like that, and the implications for lawyers and legal practice.”
Hotshot’s focus on practical knowledge for lawyers is beneficial to both law firms and their clients. As the platform continues to expand, the just-in-time learning model and flipped classroom training sessions can serve as effective bridges between the training that lawyers want and that consumers expect, to the benefit of all.