How Covid-19 has impacted L&D in PSFs

Professional development leaders are feeling stretched.  As one Chief Learning Officer put it,  “my greatest challenge is juggling immediate needs to navigate the crisis and support the longer-term strategic training objectives.”

We conducted a survey focusing on professional development practices from 26 May to 7 June 2020.   Representatives from 43 firms responded to the survey from global firms (14%), and those based in the United States (44%), United Kingdom (33%) as well as the EU, Africa and Asia.  75% of the respondents represented law firms, the remainder represented other professional service firms.  The survey was conducted by Leadership for Lawyers llc of the USA and Cote Consultants of the UK.

Firm Cutback Hit Professional Development Activities

65% of firms have suspended all or some of their professional development activities such as training and coaching during the crisis.  23% of firms reported an increase in learning interventions.  Those who reported an increase tended to be from large or global firms that have the resources and infrastructure to provide effective online learning programs.

More than 70% of firms have cut learning and development budgets for 2020.  37% have cut budgets in excess of 20% for the year.  54% of firms expect further budget cuts for 2021.  

33% of firms reported that their professional development team has experienced lay-offs or furloughs over the past few months.  19% of firms expect that their team will see further layoffs in the next six months.  

Despite budget and staff reductions, professional development teams are working hard to deliver training programs via Zoom and online learning platforms.  Learning professionals reported that they are working longer hours from home and that the volume of work has increased significantly since the lock-down.  

Budget cuts are hitting external coaches and consultants as well.  40% of firms indicated that they will hire fewer coaches in Q3 and Q4 of 2020.  42% of firms indicated their coaching use will remain the same.  

Office Re-Opening Increases Stress and Workload

About 50% of firms expect to re-open during the summer months.  26% have already opened their offices and 23% will likely re-open in the fall of 2020.   On a personal note, 72% of professional development leaders prefer a mix a working from home and the office.  Only 14% prefer to return to the office “as pre-Covid” and 14% prefer to work solely at home.  

While many firms have been slow to offer robust “work-from-home” policies prior to the crisis, the pandemic experiment has shown that lawyers and staff can be productive in a distributed environment.  We expect to see firms offering more flexible working arrangements even after offices re-open later this year.  

While the isolation of work-from-home presents both mental health and logistical challenges to learning professionals, the “return-to-office (RTO)” phase presents unique problems as well.  Respondents frequently mentioned the difficulty to onboard new associates, laterals and summer clerks remotely.  Connecting new hires with other lawyers and staff via phone and video chat is awkward.  The RTO phase requires additional policies and remote training for all employees, adding to the workload of learning professionals.

The Future is Uncertain, but Technology Will Play Major Role

When do firms expect to resume live training?  42% said, “we don’t know how or if we will resume live training.”   While 9% will resume live training Q3, 21% are making plans for Q1 2021, at the earliest.   Meanwhile, professional development leaders are working on delivering a wide range of programs that help lawyers and staff deal with the crisis, including:

  • Resiliency and dealing with stress/isolation
  • Business development and networking in a social distancing environment
  • Leadership and leading remote teams
  • Inclusion, diversity, and anti-racism
  • Work productivity 
  • Return to office practices 

When asked about learning and development methods that will change the most over the next few years, e-learning courses came out on top.  86% of respondents indicated that e-learning courses and virtual classrooms will have the most impact on learning programs.  60% said that blended (e-learning and live training) will increase and 23% identified that gamified learning will increase.   

“Sending lawyers and staff to external conferences” took the biggest hit as 81% indicated that this method will decrease over the next two years.  

“Coaching by managers and peers” and “User Generated Content” will also be used significantly more in the future.  

Nearly all firms said that virtual classrooms and mobile learning will have some or significant impact on the professional service learning and development industry over the next two years.  About half of the firms have a learning management system (LMS) in place today.  Of those who don’t have one now, 29% will invest in an LMS over the next year.  


It’s clear from the survey that learning and development teams have been and will continue to be casualties of the Covid-19 induced global recession.  Professional development budgets are an easy target when revenue is under pressure.   However, firms need to recognize the contribution that learning professionals make to their organizations’ success and ensure that they re-invest in them soon. 

In many ways the lasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic may be to accelerate several existing trends.   Flexible working looks like it is here to stay with 72% of respondents preferring a mix of home and office working.  The survey also shows a significant adoption of technology in delivering learning support.  Many firms are planning on using new learning methods such as virtual classrooms, user-generated content, gamified learning, and MOOCs, in addition to continuing to use external coaching, in-house developed programs and peer groups.  

There will still be a place for face to face development, particularly when behavioral change is the desired outcome.  However, we’ve realized that much of technical training can be delivered effectively remotely.  It may be that the savings made in the ancillary costs of such training (travel, accommodation, food and drink) that will be saved can be used in delivering the training instead, hence protecting outcomes.

Download the full survey report here:

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Posted in: Talent Development