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What are Law Firms Doing to Develop the Next Generation? Developing Successful Lawyers and Rainmakers

It’s almost a brand new year. What are law firms doing to develop the next generation of successful lawyers and rainmakers in 2012 and beyond? The answer to that question depends in part on how the firm is doing in the current economy and whether the firm views the development efforts to be a cost or an investment.

Many firms, which have historically had institutional clients, have cut back on their development of the next generation. Those firms view development of their next generation as a “cost” and as soon as the economy deteriorated, developing the next generation was one of the first things to be cut. Those firms are no longer hiring outside trainers and coaches to work with their associates. Instead, they are turning to their own partners who do not have time for training and coaching because of the increased pressure to get their own billable hours. In those firms, instead of focusing on the next generation of successful lawyers and rainmakers, they are laying off the next generation in record numbers.

I am fortunate to teach and coach lawyers in many entrepreneurial law firms. One great example is Fox Rothschild, a Philadelphia-based firm with offices along the East and West Coasts. Fox Rothschild’s firm leaders, and leaders of other entrepreneurial firms, believe that developing their next generation of lawyers is a sound investment. I know from my own work with those firms that the return on the investment is substantial.

“We believe in investing in our associates and young partners. Our investment has made them more successful and created more of a team spirit in the firm. Several associates and partners who have participated have greatly increased their business and brought new clients to the firm. As a result, we have a waiting list of lawyers wanting to participate.” Jean A. Durling, Fox Rothschild’s Chief Talent Officer.

Entrepreneurial Firms Realize:

  • Business development will be natural for few and a challenge for many.
  • They need to focus on raising the level of emotional intelligence.
  • One size does not fit all (they customize the training to the individual).
  • They need to teach associates to set goals and prepare a plan.
  • Career and client development training that is interactive and experiential is more effective.
  • Training and development that includes follow-up individual coaching is significantly more effective than one-shot training programs.
  • Training and development programs for junior associates are designed differently than programs for more senior associates and junior partners.

Developing the Next Generation

Many entrepreneurial firms begin developing the next generation when they arrive at the firm for orientation. In that first week at the firm, young associates are taught how to start right for career success.

Junior associates are told that their primary task is to learn the skills to become the best lawyer they can possibly be. They set specific learning goals: “At the end of my first year, I will have learned to _______.” They learn how to prepare a development plan with goals on what they want to learn.

Junior associates are encouraged to treat their supervising attorney as their client and practice their “people skills” by asking good questions and listening to that supervising attorney.

Senior associates are taught to become more visible and credible to a target market. The training includes writing and speaking to get hired, networking, building trust and rapport, asking good questions, and listening.

Coaching Senior Associates

Fox Rothschild and some other entrepreneurial firms begin individual and group client development coaching programs with their senior associates who will soon be eligible for partner.

The firms that have experienced the greatest return on investment have chosen the right candidates to participate in their coaching and training program. They know that the lawyers who “need” coaching the least will put the most into it and will get the most out of it.

The training and coaching programs in those entrepreneurial firms include both group and individual activities. Lawyers set group and individual goals and action plans to achieve them. The group goals and activities are designed to build a team and to hold each lawyer on the team accountable. The individual goals and activities recognize that each lawyer has unique skills, dreams, and challenges.

Conclusion

Is developing your next generation of outstanding lawyers a “cost” to be cut every time the economy dips, or is it an “investment” in your firm’s future? How you answer that question will determine your approach to developing your next generation of successful lawyers.ν

Cordell Parvin

Cordell Parvin built a national construction practice during his 36 years of practicing law. In 2005, he left the firm and started Cordell Parvin LLC. He now works with lawyers and law firms on career development and planning and client development. The Practical Lawyer reprint. He may be reached at 214-866-0550 or cparvin@cordellparvin.com.

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About the Author: Cordell Parvin built a national construction practice during his 36 years of practicing law. In 2005, he left the firm and started Cordell Parvin LLC. He now works with lawyers and law firms on career development and planning and client development. The Practical Lawyer reprint. He may be reached at 214-866-0550 or cparvin@cordellparvin.com.

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