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The manner and method of legal education has not changed in more than a century. Law schools, for the most part, use the Socratic method to teach their students how to “think like a lawyer.” Few schools prepare their students for the actual practice of law � how to survive and thrive. Beginning in the 1990s, professional development departments were created to design substantive legal skills training for new associates. It was a necessary endeavor to create more effective associates and to protect firms against negligence claims. In the past, few firms were willing to appropriately endow the resources necessary for a comprehensive training curriculum. Fortunately, this is changing. Many firms, realizing that legal education does not end with law school, have instituted professional development departments that offer an assortment of training programs. These programs can and do assist summer associates in attaining practical, necessary skills � not just during the summer, but throughout their legal careers. Attending programs throughout the summer is key in helping them establish a core skill set. One might ask why law students should be concerned about professional development � they are not yet professionals. But while summer associates are not licensed attorneys, they are engaged in the law and should conform to the standards of the legal profession. Law schools and law firms recognize that they have knowledge to impart to students and, therefore, should collaborate (or at least work in tandem) in developing future lawyers. Even the American Bar Association has noted that law firms should play a role in infusing educational significance, increasing the educational content and creating workshops supporting the enriching aspects of the summer work experience. One of the first steps toward charting a solid career path is to improve career-related knowledge and hone the skills needed for a successful career. In addition to becoming oriented to law firm work life in a compressed period of time, a summer associate should also take advantage of the following professional development essentials: • Career development. Not unlike a law school’s career services office, the professional development department is the primary career development resource. It serves as an exchange center for personal and career exploration. It also provides one-on-one counseling and guidance on issues like work/life balance, specialization, outside activities (e.g., bar associations, community and civic organizations), and partnership alternatives. It can help a summer associate identify how to take formal training to a practical level. • Mentoring. Through either a formal or informal program, summer associates will have one or more mentors providing support and guidance throughout the summer. Mentors can offer guidance on receiving varied work assignments, balancing workloads, navigating the firm’s culture and selecting beneficial professional development courses. Mentors also provide one of the best opportunities to receive immediate, practical coaching in the form of shadowing, tag-alongs and/or “at-the-elbow” instruction � both in and out of the office. • Networking. Many law students utilize professional development events as a way to build a legal career network. Summer associates discover that professional development staff, mentors and the workshop presenters or facilitators become the foundation of professional contacts that can mean the difference between “just a job” and an “exciting legal career.” Most employers provide a variety of events for summer associates for social interaction. Summer associates are advised to take advantage of them all. The more people in one’s contact list, the better. • Legal skills building. This is what most people associate with professional development � teaching and reinforcing core skills in areas such as research and advanced writing, oral advocacy and legal-related software. Professional development also entails soft skills such as client counseling, team building, problem solving, conflict resolution, negotiation and business development. Many professional development departments develop and offer a variety of skill-level programs in each topic. In some instances, an academy- or boot camp-type format is employed, offering a myriad of required and elective courses for summer associates. These courses may be accessible in-house or externally, sometimes utilizing knowledge management resources. • Pro bono activities. Additionally, the professional development department can assist students in identifying pro bono opportunities that offer practical application of skills. Many law schools have mandatory pro bono requirements � those that do not, strongly suggest that students engage in community service. Work on behalf of the public interest is both informative and rewarding. • General skills building. Even a top student from one of the nation’s leading law schools may need skills refreshers. This especially can be the case for those who went straight to law school after earning their undergraduate degrees. In addition to the legal skills courses, professional development departments often present programs on etiquette, teamwork, leadership development, organization and time management, effective communication, office technology and working with superiors, peers and support staff. • Evaluations. In cooperation with the supervisors and the recruiting department, the professional development department may manage the summer associates’ performance reviews. These evaluations, which take note of one’s use of professional development opportunities, are used in deciding who will receive offers of permanent employment. Additionally, summer associates will be encouraged to evaluate the summer associate program � what worked and what did not � which is critical in sustaining the firm’s continuing professional development efforts. The mission of a professional development department is to provide lawyers with essential knowledge, skills and abilities. The department’s offerings include mentoring, print and electronic resources, programs, seminars, workshops, forums and special projects. By utilizing this wide array of opportunities, law students can attain the tools they need to become great summer associates as well as successful, contributing attorneys. Sharon Meit Abrahams, who holds a Doctor of Education degree, is the director of professional development at McDermott, Will & Emery, based in the Miami office. Susan Smith Ross, a lawyer, is a professional development manager based in the firm’s Chicago office.

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