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In legal recruitment, there is probably no higher investment than the wooing of top students from their first year of law school to their last day in a firm’s summer program. And the summer associate program is the high point of the recruitment process. According to “Perspectives on Fall 2004 Recruiting” recently published by the National Association of Law Placement (NALP), 75% of students who are summer associates at New York law firms accept a job offer from the firm to return as a permanent associate. However, only 25% of students who receive summer associate offers from those firms accept them in the first place. “Perspectives on Fall 2004 Recruiting,” NALP, March 2005, at 13, 18. Thus, the problem certainly isn’t keeping them once they’re in the door-it’s getting them through the door to begin with. Despite the summer program’s role as the apex of the recruitment process, however, it has little to no effect on the career choice of future attorneys. When law students were asked for the top five factors influencing the type of job they would choose after graduation, fewer than one in 10 put an employer’s summer program on the list. See Paula Patton, “The Significance of Summer Programs: Announcing a New NALP Foundation Research Report,” The NALP Bulletin, March 2003 (reprint), at 2. So we appear to have a conundrum: A summer program is a law firm’s foremost recruiting tool, and firms would all like to get more than 25% of law students to accept offers to be a part of theirs. Yet in the end, the program doesn’t affect the students’ decision to join the firms (or any other legal employer) one whit. Now what? The answer to the puzzle can be found in the same survey noted above. The items that students did put on their “top five” list of job-choice influences included salary, benefits, flexible work options, meaningful work and professional development opportunities. Id. While not all of these can be realistically experienced as a summer associate, professional development can. If summer programs are not influencing students’ decisions, and professional development offerings are, the solution is obvious: Add one to the other and set the program apart. A fully realized professional development program will not only put a firm’s unique stamp on the summer experience, but it will also serve everyone’s particular needs-the firm’s, and those of the budding attorneys. What’s in it for firms? The practice of law as we know it today is quite different from how law firms worked a generation ago. Law firms are now finding themselves laboring under the same performance demands as corporations-for example, the pressure to maximize revenue and minimize cost by increasing the productivity of everyone in the organization. In the legal environment, one measure of a firm’s performance is realization (the difference between the associate’s normal billing rate and the amount actually collected). Law firms have long accepted a certain amount of realization “lag time,” however, roughly corresponding to an associate’s first two years on the job. A comprehensive summer associate training program can be a great help to realization by ensuring that those students accepting offers return as first-year attorneys with a baseline of skills. It also means that the professional development of junior lawyers can focus on specific and substantive aspects of legal practice, and less on core competencies. Two examples of valuable topics for a summer associate training initiative are as follows. Effective legal research. Of course, a large chunk of law school is already spent in doing research. However, what professors want to see from research in an academic environment is quite different from expectations placed on associate research at law firms. In law school, the emphasis is on the appropriate analysis; in law practice, the goal is the best answer for the client, as soon as possible, at a cost the client is willing to pay. A brief session on effective research can teach two necessary skills in achieving this goal: how to use treatises, statutes and hornbooks as initial sources so that later online searches are more focused (thus saving time and fees); and how and when to communicate with the assigning attorney on expectations and purpose of the research-parameters, deadlines, eventual target audience (court or client), delays and whether results should be delivered verbally or in writing. Introduction to depositions. Studies have shown that as training moves from passive experience (reading, listening) to active experience (collaboration, learning by doing), the retention of information increases. A class on depositions is a great way to provide such an interactive learning experience. Beginning with a brief lecture on the basics, participants are placed on teams (plaintiff and defendant) and provided with a complaint. Each team is allowed one meeting with the instructor to brainstorm strategy, and then both teams return a week later to depose and defend a witness as appropriate for their side. For the fact pattern, it is advisable to avoid a matter that might be unduly complex-instead, a firm might select a straightforward employment-related complaint. Using such a case ensures that any work required outside the sessions isn’t burdensome, while at the same time the summer associates learn about an area of law that has direct applicability to their professional lives. And although it will be several years before participants are involved in real depositions, it is an opportunity for the students to hone key skills such as oral presentation, project management and teamwork. (A similar program on managing a smoothly run closing may be substituted for transactional law.) It is clear that sessions like these are advantageous to firms. They ensure a class of first-year associates with a common skill foundation. But how will the law students perceive such a training program? Will it fulfill their needs as much as it does the firm’s? And for the students? By and large, law students are members of two generations of Americans: Generation Y and their older brethren, Generation X. Although not every aspect of their value systems is shared, both groups see loyal, meaningful relationships as a central need of their lives. And, unlike previous generations, this need goes beyond the family circle. To Generation X and Generation Y, the connection with friends and co-workers can be just as meaningful as their connection to family. How will a firm’s summer professional development program fulfill this need? All human beings recognize that two key aspects of meaningful relationships are investment and commitment-one is an indicator of the other. For Generation X/Y members, a meaningful relationship with an employer is defined by the investment in, and therefore commitment to, their professional growth and development. This need arises from what today’s law students and young attorneys witnessed while growing up: Most have lived through at least one recession, and many of them saw their parents end up downsized and out of work. Because of this experience, their loyalty to an organization isn’t just based on a paycheck, since they know that could end tomorrow. What these young people do know is that skills matter, as they are portable and will help ensure success wherever these generations land. Of course, it seems counterintuitive to spend time, money and effort providing training that may end up to the advantage of another employer, whether that’s a competing firm or something outside the law entirely. However, it is precisely this possibility that increases students’ loyalty to firms: Since they know as well as the firm does that they can take their skills elsewhere, summer associates perceive professional development as a (somewhat) selfless investment in their long-term career growth. Simply put, it is a commitment to them without quid pro quo that makes them more likely to commit to the firm. Another reason that relationships with friends and co-workers are so important for this generation is that such connections create a feeling of being an integral part of something larger and more significant than themselves alone. This desire to belong to what might be called an “organization of meaning” is another generational need that summer professional development programs fulfill, since, if implemented successfully, they will serve as exemplars of the firm’s culture and core values. The choice of the program instructor itself speaks volumes: Partners and senior associates who teach summer sessions illustrate a devotion of substantial time and energy (not to mention a firm’s highest billable rates) to mentoring new attorneys. They demonstrate that participation in professional development is an important element of firm volunteerism and “civic duty” and, particularly in the case of senior associates, a key indication of leadership commitment as they approach consideration for partnership. While external training vendors may be substantively qualified, they can’t match the indelible impression that internal, high-level instructors leave of a firm as an “organization of meaning.” The word on the street So suppose a firm has successfully integrated professional development into its summer program. Does it matter? Will it move the program up to the “top five” influences on that decision factor list? If a firm implements a great training program, summer associates return to law school thinking three things: The firm cares about their long-term careers; the partners believe in an “each one teach one” philosophy; and everyone, from the senior associates who taught them the skills they’ll need as first-years to their fellow summers who worked on depositions with them, believe that “we’re all in this together.” But more importantly, summer associates will not only think those things; they’ll tell others those things, leading to a decision point where the aforementioned loyalty and meaningful relationships come into play. While their grandparents believed in loyalty to authority (i.e., “the system”), and baby boomers took the opposite tack of loyalty to self (asking “What’s in it for me?”), Generation X/Y is, as their technological savvy indicates, hooked into the power of the network. Peer loyalty is paramount; they trust their friends’ opinions more than lists of firm rankings. Why? According to The NALP Foundation, the overwhelming influence in choosing a summer program is geography. Following that consideration is the employer’s reputation and culture, cited by only a third of students. See Patton, supra, at 2. It appears, judging from this statistic, that law is like real estate-location is destiny. And, if that is so, the statistic is a moot point: Once students have decided that they want to focus on a particular city for their summer program search, geography ceases to be an issue. Firms in that city are competing on the other two factors: culture and reputation-who they are, and who law students tell their friends they are. Therefore, using professional development to set one’s summer program apart will pay off in the end. Over time, word of mouth will result in candidates of higher quality, and in higher offer-acceptance rates, because the firm has transformed its program from just another rite of passage to a unique and meaningful experience. Gillian M. Murray is the firmwide professional development and training specialist for Bryan Cave, resident in the firm’s New York office.

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