How Do I Compare Law Firm Associate Professional Development Best Practices?
Law firm associate professional development programs and their successes and best practices are important from the perspective of both the law firm associates and the law firm itself. As we will see below, after graduation, a law school student is typically looking for a law firm where he or she can build his or her career. As a part of determining which law firm is the best fit and the best professional development, these graduates and new attorneys will consider the success of a firm’s professional development programs, which address training, continuing education, and mentoring. Further, after a new or lateral attorney joins a firm, the firm’s focus is on retaining those associates over the long term. As a part of that retention, many law firms focus the need for the professional development of their lawyers. A good professional development program is beneficial to lawyers, as well as law firms. It improves the quality of firm’s lawyers by ensuring high-quality professional skills.
Below are the six elements of the best practices for law firm associate professional development programs:
#1—A detailed evaluation program, beginning with orientation
Every law firm associate development program is designed to retain high-end associate talent. Therefore, the best associate development programs begin with sharing the firm’s objectives right from the start. Effective orientation/training gives associates an understanding of factors important to their success in the firm, such as the firm’s evaluation benchmarks, billing and hours requirements, ethical and pro bono requirements, professional standards, HR policies, governance etc.
Further, in achieving success, a productive program will allow for significant interactions among groups. For example, more senior attorneys (partners/counsel) might work with more junior attorneys (associates) on methods of handling concrete client management situations. These discussions and interactions are important because they improve associate leadership and communication skills.
#2—A plan for growing associates into partners and leaders
Strategic planning in leadership is integral to any law firm’s survival. If a firm’s lawyers make the wrong strategic decisions, the firm’s reputation can be damaged permanently. So to maintain a viable firm, law firm partners need to be capable of making the right decisions at the right time and in the right manner.
In “Building Leadership Development Programs in Law Firms,” Steve Armstrong notes that leadership is a set of behavior. Teaching leadership to associates as a part of their professional development will have a positive effect on leadership behavior within the firm because associates will have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Further, he notes that firms should engage in what has been perceived as classic methods for changing group behavior, such as creating and clarifying expectations, providing training, and providing constant feedback.
#3—Focused on results, requiring a time commitment from partners and associates
Law firms should create a program that is substantive and long. Armstrong recommends that a long program eliminates the need to rush through the program’s “substance,” with a heavy reliance on lecture, and allows for a more varied, entertaining, and pedagogically useful range of formats: case studies, assessment instruments and self-assessments, breakout discussions of a problem or scenario, and videotaped vignettes, among other formats.
Further, an ideal professional development program should touch on a variety of topics, such as leadership, business development, communication skills, client relationship management, and teamwork. Highly interactive programs are helpful, as they sharpen communication skills because even highly talented lawyers need to improve in this area.
#4—Focuses on emotional intelligence
A good program also strengthens interpersonal relations among the associates, partners, and counsel, thereby improving the emotional intelligence of everybody involved. This is beneficial for a number of reasons, but especially for young associates, who will learn how to deal with specific problems associated with their job and also when to enlist the help of their co-workers and superiors when needed.
#5—Utilizes self-coaching as a technique
A productive program will focus on self-coaching, as well as on mentoring and the Socratic Method. The program will allow an associate to develop the skills to internally evaluate and step back at periodic intervals to evaluate their performance. In performing self-evaluation and self-coaching, an associate will be able to learn and develop internal skills for handling tricky situations.
#6—Feedback and follow-up
Because the program’s goal is to teach associates and encourage partners to be engaged in associate success, the program’s ultimate objective is to change institutional mindsets and behavior. As a result, there should be ongoing reinforcement for both partners and associates after a particular skills segment of the program ends.
There are endless possibilities for training programs for lawyers at each level.
“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” —Samuel Johnson
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Are you interviewing for a new law firm associate position? Would you like some help in working through these tips as you compare your options? If so, contact a Career Counselor with Lexacount Search’s Career Consulting Services. Or, if you are interested in learning more about open legal industry opportunities, contact a Search Consultant with Lexacount Search’s Legal Group.