In 2005, one of the top law firms in the country developed the Virtual Office, a training programme that would immerse newly qualified lawyers in a fictional world where they could hone technical skills and learn how to develop client relationships at the same time. Indeed, the most significant need was for lawyers to learn how to put themselves in the shoes of the client, with all his or her business pressures, legal needs and day-to-day hassles, so that they became a trusted helper rather than an unwanted necessity.
The programme ran on ten consecutive days and took the lawyers to a purpose-built office ‘set’, with computers, desks, lecture theatre and library.
From day one, the lawyers worked in four small teams and had to deal with legal matters as they would in real life: phone calls, emails, documents and meetings with ‘real’ clients.
The Forum Partnership was already participating in a programme for this legal firm so was asked to see if it could support its Virtual Office project. In the first meeting the turning point came when the client asked if The Forum Partnership could provide someone who could realistically play the CEO of a media company. Damian Gaskin, The Forum Partnership’s Managing Director, turned his laptop around and showed the client a member of the team – a former CEO of a media company who had given that up to become an actor. When asked for a ship’s captain, Damian could only provide an actor who had run a fleet of ships for a multi-national concrete business – but they made do!
The Forum Partnership’s original role was to provide 13 actors to act as clients at various meetings over the ten days. However, the fact that the team consisted of business people who had become actors and who had expertise in coaching soon meant that team members were asked to give feedback to the lawyers.
The Forum Partnership is still involved in supporting this programme on an annual basis. Over this period, it has upped its contribution by including a film support system it has developed called CloudQast. This powerful tool has improved its service in three keys ways. Participants can:
• receive feedback whilst re-watching some of the key meetings
• re-watch and re-experience interactions on a secure video platform
• write new updates for the briefs to ensure they are relevant and current.
“Exceptional. They were all clearly very well briefed and took their roles very seriously. They added a sense of genuine realism that certainly made me forget it was all pretend (at the crucial times at least…)”
“The actors were fantastic and very realistic in their roles. Annoyingly realistic.”
“The quality of the actors helped to make the meetings ‘real’. Had they approached their role lightly, it might have conveyed a sense of artificiality and made us all take it less seriously. But they were very professional in how they went about portraying the clients and this rubbed off on us. I don’t really have any criticisms of the actors – all the ones I experienced were excellent.”
“You make my life easier: I will give you the material, I will have one meeting with you in September and then everyone will turn up when they need to turn up, they will do what they need to do and we get great reviews. That is, frankly, what I’m looking for at the end of the day.”