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Arnold & Porter associate Danielle Garten was fresh from law school when she joined the firm’s D.C. office in September 2006. By the following July — just nine months into her career — she was standing before the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles as part of a pro bono case, attempting to save a man from lethal injection. Garten says she mostly got by on “pure adrenaline” in that situation, but if any experience can make a young attorney appreciate her first-year training, it is a moment like that one. “It’s somebody’s life that’s in your hands,” Garten says. Arnold & Porter encourages new associates to take on pro bono work to hone their skills in real world situations. And it represents a broader theme prevalent among some big firms, which are moving away from traditional associate training and toward more comprehensive career development programs. They aim to cater to client demand for more well-rounded associates. More focus is being placed on practical experience, the business of firms, and one-on-one career planning and goal setting. The firms say that in the past, associate training did not always adequately emphasize these elements of the legal world. At Clifford Chance, for example, more recent career development efforts have mainly centered on implementing a business education component. At Arnold & Porter, the focus has shifted from informal partner-to-associate training to a more structured program that includes many other components in addition to the mentoring. And that’s where Caren Stacy, director of professional development at Arnold & Porter, comes in. Stacy was hired by the firm five years ago to build up such a program. She says pro bono work is a critical part of a new lawyer’s experience at the firm. “You’re getting the chance to counsel real clients who are definitely in need of your services, and the chance to stand up in a real courtroom.” Arnold & Porter’s trial training program assigns new attorneys to D.C. Superior Court cases on a pro bono basis. The firm offers a host of in-house courses that coincide with every step of the cases, from fact-finding to arguing in court. Garten took on the Georgia pro bono case separately from the trial training program, but she credits other coursework for helping her to ultimately win a stay of execution for her client, Troy Anthony Davis. First-year associates undergo a two-and-a-half day deposition workshop. Garten says this was a huge help when she unexpectedly found herself in the midst of a “full-fledged mini trial” to buy Davis more time. She only expected to present arguments before the pardons and paroles board, but at the last minute, board members asked her and her co-counsel to put witnesses on the stand from the original 1989 murder case against Davis. They made that request on a Friday, Garten was due in court with the witnesses the next Monday, and Davis’ execution was scheduled for Tuesday. “We had investigators go to Savannah and round these people up. We prepped them at 3 in the morning on Sunday night,” Garten says. When Davis’ plight began to attract media attention, Garten says she relied on a group communication and public speaking course that was taught by a consultant brought in from outside the firm. “When it came to talking to the press, that really came in very handy. You’re thinking about every comment you make.” EXCEPTIONAL ASSOCIATES That kind of real-world experience is at the heart of the professional development program at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi as well. The program, called The Exceptional Advocate, is founded on the notion that the best resources for new lawyers are internal. “Rather than send people to CLE, we’re actually tapping our senior trial lawyers as trainers,” says firm partner and co-chairman of the program, Jan Conlin. She and the program’s other chairman, partner Eric Jackson, have spent the last three years overhauling the firm’s new associate training. The firm’s Minneapolis headquarters boasts a 3-year-old courtroom that can be modified to replicate nearly any layout its litigators encounter. Conlin says this provides an ideal setting for new associates to practice in. Conlin and Jackson implemented a four-phase mock trial curriculum that takes associates through increasingly complex trial situations. Senior Robins Kaplan lawyers act as coaches to groups of four or five associates throughout the trials. Local judges are brought in, and, in the later phases, the firm screens for actual jurors. Though the mock courtroom is in Minneapolis, the firm flies in associates from all of its offices to use the facility. Sharon Roberg-Perez, a second-year associate in the Minneapolis Robins Kaplan office, says she was well-equipped to stand up in a real courtroom after undergoing the trial training. “I’ve done a few pro bono cases in my couple years here. I think the mock trial did a pretty good job of building in things you can’t anticipate.” She is also a fan of another of the program’s components, called “Great Closings.” Senior partners re-deliver their best closing arguments from cases they previously handled. The partner gives the closing in the Minneapolis mock courtroom, and the firm has another attorney deliver the opposing closing argument. Roberg-Perez says the partner she observed last spring was “a master story-teller.” “What struck me was his ability to weave pretty complicated facts into a very compelling and simple story.” WHAT’S NEXT? Aside from practical experience, firms striving for comprehensive professional development are requiring new associates to spend more time planning for the future. By asking associates to evaluate their long-term ambitions, firms say they can assess whether they are providing adequate resources to their attorneys. Kristen Carreta, assistant director of professional development at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, says the firm’s associate training is geared toward “the concept of lifelong learning.” And a major component of that is planning ahead. “We require all of our lawyers to have a development plan. We ask everyone to identify some short-term goals and long-term goals.” Carreta says this helps ensure that associates’ personal ambitions are consistent with the overall direction of their practice groups. The firm provides an outline, and associates are asked to map out goals in terms of community involvement, pro bono work, and business and legal development. Womble Carlyle associate Jason Koslofsky says constructing a personal development plan has helped him “tailor” his objectives. “It certainly helped me put into words what I should be aspiring to as an associate.” And as even more of an incentive to focus on personal development, when the firm implemented its training program in 2001, it also did away with automatic salary increases. Its compensation model is now tied to skills development. In other words, an associate who shows improvement has a better chance of getting a raise. Koslofsky says this definitely gives him an extra push. “I think it’s beneficial in the long run to assist us in doing some of the things that we may not recognize we need to do.” Arnold & Porter has taken steps to ensure its associates focus on the future as well. Professional development director Stacy says the firm was the first to hire in-house career counselors. One of their main purposes is to help new attorneys more narrowly focus their goals. “If you have a career plan, and you’ve thought through what you want to accomplish, you have a better idea of what kind of training you should be attending,” Stacy says. She adds that the counselors are not connected to firm management, and associates meet with them in strict confidence. That way, attorneys can feel comfortable about opening up if they feel high-level members of the firm or firm policies are hindering their personal ambitions. The counselors can then report to management without betraying who brought the problems to their attention. Like Arnold & Porter, Paul Hastings is another firm that employs a “career coach.” The coach provides attorneys with confidential advice and a resource for goal-setting. The firm also mandates formal performance conferences twice a year for first- and second-year associates. The young attorneys sit down with their supervising partners to discuss needed improvement, and to plot their next career moves. Jay Connolly, senior human resources manager at Clifford Chance, speaks for a lot of firms when he emphasizes the importance of cultivating business sense in new associates. He says his firm’s clients have a certain expectation now that calls for business-savvy attorneys “at every level.” In response, Clifford Chance offers a set of about 10 courses for new attorneys that center exclusively on the business side of the firm. The classes cover topics such as understanding financial statements, professional standards, business communication, and time management. Arnold & Porter’s Stacy also says her firm is working hard to instill “the entrepreneurial spirit” in its attorneys. A component of the professional development program available to all members of the firm focuses specifically on business and client relations. Stacy says the focus is on “more leadership, management, more business training.” As for Danielle Garten, the Arnold & Porter associate expects to be back in Georgia next month. She is set to argue before the state supreme court in an attempt to overturn a lower court’s decision to deny Davis a new trial. “You’re fighting for your client, but you’re also fighting the system,” she says. In taking on an opponent that big, no doubt a little training can go a long way.
Marisa McQuilken can be contacted at [email protected].

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