Reed Smith on Tuesday joined a handful of Am Law 100 firms that have dumped lockstep associate promotion and launched a new focus on associate training.
The new program will divide associates into three tiers: junior, midlevel and senior. To advance, associates will need to meet a set of competencies. Courses will be available to help associates advance, and partners will be matched with associates to serve as career advisers.
San Francisco managing partner David Thompson said the firm wants to create strong business people as well as strong lawyers. "The point is to differentiate ourselves," Thompson said. "We think our training is good now, but our goal is to improve it and deliver on a higher level of execution and tailoring."
"This provides a real road map for associates to understand what is required of them at every step along the way," said Nicky Dingemans, who helped create the program as the head of human resources at Reed Smith.
The firm has not decided yet how compensation will change, she said.
The firm's Web site lists 673 associates, 98 in California, with all but six in the San Francisco or Los Angeles offices.
Several firms this year have announced a move away from lockstep and toward more merit-based promotion and compensation. The firms include Howrey, Bingham McCutchen, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Townsend and Townsend and Crew.
Reed Smith said it started working on the program 18 months ago, and it was not a response to the recession.
The program covers four main areas -- legal skills, citizenship, business skills and clients -- and nine core competencies. Some of those competencies include mastering fundamental legal skills, support of the firm's culture, demonstration of leadership and business skills, and understanding and effectively managing client needs.
An internal team developed the program with input from partners and associates from throughout the firm, Dingemans said.
"There's somewhat of a disconnect when you are in law school, and when you get in the law firm environment and what's expected of you as a litigator," said R. Euna Kim, a senior associate in San Francisco. "I think this is a wonderful tool to bridge that gap."
Each of the three associate levels will be tied to an "academy." The firm will continue its "Reed Smith University," which already offers 140 in-house courses. The program will help reduce associate attrition and create higher client satisfaction, a firm statement said.
Dingeman said the focus will be on creating strong business people as well as strong lawyers.
"Being a great lawyer today is not just about having those great legal skills," Dingemans said.
As part of the program, junior associates will study a "mini-MBA" course that will focus on the quantitative and accounting side of the business. More senior associates will learn about matter management, client development and the more strategic aspects of a business degree, Dingemans said.
The firm has placed first- and second-year associates into the junior class, third- through fifth-year associates into the midlevel class, and sixth-year associates and above into the senior class. There is no set time for each associate to move through the ranks.
Dingemans said the adviser program is less like a traditional mentoring program and more a way for the associates to have someone to help explain how to navigate through the new system.
Gina Passarella of The Legal Intelligencer, a Recorder affiliate, contributed to this story.