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Professional development doesn’t just mean sitting through mandatory continuing legal education classes any more. As the practice of law continues to evolve and attorneys continue to fine-tune their practices, many lawyers seek professional development opportunities beyond the required hours of CLE, which can include anything from on-the-job training to career counseling, from mentoring to marketing seminars. Law firms have even created positions for directors of professional development, who oversee the training of the firm’s lawyers. The trend toward more comprehensive career management extends beyond law firms, as companies and corporate law departments, both large and small, are paying closer attention to the professional development of their attorneys. What does professional development mean for in-house counsel? “It means having a plan for your development, both in terms of experiences and opportunities and [in] building skill sets,” said Veta Richardson, executive director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association. Professional development goes beyond just continuing legal education, she explained, to include “strategic planning for one’s own career.” “[C]areer development in-house has to be closely allied with what the company’s underlying business needs are,” Richardson added, citing by way of example focusing on developing more of an awareness, understanding and knowledge of international global legal issues for counsel at companies engaged in global expansion. In essence, professional development is a fusion of career planning and development – for yourself – and continuing education and training in both the law and your company’s business – for the benefit of your client. “Professional development is what you engage in to make you a better counsel,” said Deborah House, vice president and deputy general counsel for legal resources and strategic initiatives at the Association of Corporate Counsel. “Law departments have paid attention to it for a long time. The focus of professional development in law departments is how to do your job better.” While law firms may have that same general focus for training their attorneys, corporate counsel see professional development differently than do firm lawyers, in large part because their jobs are different from those of outside counsel. Corporate counsel aren’t just lawyers who happen to work at companies. They often take on executive or management roles for their clients. “There is a greater diversity of potential experiences, whereas in law firms, the experiences are largely related to the practice of law,” Richardson explained. For most corporate attorneys, that can translate into the need for much more business and leadership training. “In-house counsel are expected to have a better understanding of their client’s business – legally, financially, in every way,” explained House. “Attorneys have never been taught how to be managers,” said House, “[and] working with in-house counsel, that becomes very important.” Adam Palmer, GC of Washington, D.C.-based Cyveillance, considers taking on more business roles a part of his continuing professional development. Many corporate counsel feel they have to develop their business and leadership skills, said Palmer, who is chairman of the ACC’s new to in-house committee. In fact, Palmer describes almost a sense of embarrassment in doing only legal work among some corporate lawyers, driving them to get involved in business matters and seek out more business training. Palmer is quick to point out that there’s nothing wrong with being “just” a lawyer. Corporate counsel don’t always have to be businesspeople; they just have to understand their client’s business. General counsel may find it more difficult to get the rest of the management team on board with professional development programs geared specifically for corporate counsel. Although companies may be gung-ho about professional development in general, the CEO may not understand what professional development means to members of the law department in particular, Palmer said. On the other hand, many corporations understand the general need for focused professional development better than law firms, Palmer said, where the focus may be on billable hours and there may be the sense that merely working on cases constitutes professional development. “You really have to take control of your own professional development,” said Palmer, whether it means joining professional or trade associations or justifying to the management team the need for certain CLE courses. As the law department of one, Palmer recognizes it’s up to him to direct his own plan for developing his skills and furthering his career. At some companies, usually those with larger law departments, professional development is a department- or even company-wide initiative, with training classes and continuing legal education offered in-house. General Electric, for example, not only keeps track of its lawyers’ CLE hours and professional development but also requires specific training, explained Bill Fisher, GE’s manager of human resources. All newly hired GE attorneys – whether junior, midlevel or higher – attend an annual three-day orientation, where they first get to know the law department’s various practice areas, their roles, players and functions. In the second half of the program, new attorneys use a GE case study to learn basic finance and accounting concepts, including the company’s financial statement, as well as GE’s business and what role in-house counsel play in that, Fisher said. “They need to understand the business; they need to know how the numbers work,” he said. GE also runs a week-long in-house advanced business course where the company’s lawyers learn financial analysis, performance measurements, issues with profitability and operating margins, and leadership skills. “Our vision is to have our lawyers as business partners,” said Fisher, “so training in finance and leadership is critical to . . . that.” DuPont has also formalized and institutionalized its professional development program for in-house counsel, said Hinton Lucas, assistant general counsel and chief counsel of administration. As part of the program, all corporate attorneys participate in continuing education and training. Training has been added to the department’s strategic plan and is evaluated yearly as one of its critical operating tasks. Much of DuPont’s training is practice group or discipline specific, Lucas said. For instance, commercial lawyers receive training in contracts and drafting agreements, while mergers and acquisitions or antitrust attorneys focus on the latest developments in the law in their respective fields. Practice group leaders oversee the training, and the company uses both outside and in-house speakers – some of whom are not necessarily affiliated with the legal department, Lucas said, citing by way of example the experts that speak at DuPont’s in-house patent seminar. In addition to in-house training, many of DuPont’s lawyers use professional development as an opportunity to network and brainstorm with outside counsel. The company’s labor and employment lawyers, for example, strategize with their outside counsel on new developments in the field, said Lucas. Some professional development is mandatory for all in-house counsel regardless of practice area, including the company’s ethics, regulatory and compliance training, and all employees of the company receive some training on the company’s legal requirements. DuPont decided to formalize its training program a couple of years ago, said Lucas, in an effort to keep its lawyers up to date with growing and ever-changing business practices. “Being a large, diverse, global company . . . we’re always looking at what are the trends of our business,” Lucas explained. “For us to continue to be world-class, we must have this training.” A more formal and institutionalized approach gets the importance of professional development across, Lucas said, and he recommends that GCs who are interested in enhancing their lawyers’ professional development also make a formal training program a part of their strategic plan. Many law departments that have formal professional development programs also recognize the importance of career management and mentoring, whether formal or informal. Both DuPont and GE offer mentoring to in-house counsel. At DuPont, it is a part of the job of the AGCs to keep track of the career development of lawyers under their direction, Lucas said. GE offers mentoring generally in all of its businesses, Fisher said, and the company monitors mentoring among in-house lawyers in a department as well as cross-business mentoring among its attorneys. Law departments with formal professional development and training programs commonly enjoy support for these career management efforts from the business side of the company. Both GE and DuPont have large training and professional development initiatives for their entire companies, and Lucas said company-wide support for training programs in general was instrumental in developing the law department’s training. Law department professional development programs run the gamut, and even the person in charge of these programs can differ from one company to another – from GCs to legal managers to human resources personnel. Companies with “self-check” initiatives leave it up to the lawyer to satisfy any mandated training or professional development goals. GCs, their law departments and their companies face impediments to professional development initiatives, including lack of time in busy corporate attorneys’ schedules and lack of resources at some smaller law departments. “One of the challenges of being in-house today is that some organizations are fairly flat in the law department,” said Richardson. If there are low turnover rates and few or no chances to move up, then training becomes less clear and more lateral, “so professional development and growth have to be apprehended differently,” Richardson explained. Movement within the company may be more lateral as well, such as when a GC moves into a position in human resources or compliance, which calls for training in different areas, even different businesses, and can be challenging. Corporate counsel may also have to dig deeper to find professional development opportunities, although continuing legal education for corporate counsel can be found more easily among groups and associations that represent the interests of in-house attorneys. For corporate counsel who specialize, CLE opportunities may be easier to identify, said Richardson, while generalists may have a harder time finding programs of interest that are in line with the company’s business goals and development. “They’re not spoon-fed, but if you join [professional] groups, there are plenty of opportunities,” said Palmer. The ACC, for example, offers a Mini-MBA program, designed to give in-house counsel a better understanding of the basics of business, finance and strategic planning, House said. The ACC also runs an annual Corporate Counsel University, a two-day seminar with courses and programs on legal and business topics that are particularly useful to those who are new to the corporate world. In addition, the ACC has a variety of Webinars that are written for and by in-house counsel on topics including conflicts of interest, insurance basics, balance sheets and even time management. At the MCCA’s annual CLE Expo, held this March in Chicago, corporate counsel can attend seminars in various practice areas, including corporate governance, litigation and investigation, labor and employment, and intellectual property. The expo also includes presentations on law and global commerce as well as on value-added career strategies like increasing one’s marketability and negotiating compensation. The ACC’s regional chapters also put on their own educational and training programs. DELVACCA, the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel, which received the 2007 ACC Excellence in Programming Award, recently put on seminars about structuring outsourcing agreements, meeting ethical standards and handling liability insurance, among others. DELVACCA offers its own an annual, day-long Corporate Counsel University focused on professional development, which this past year included information and materials on networking and marketing. The New Jersey chapter also puts on an annual Corporate Counsel Institute, among other CLE and career development events throughout the year. Not only are most, if not all, of these programs eligible for mandatory CLE credits but they also present valuable networking opportunities. And like mentoring, informal networking and peer engagement are all valuable parts of professional development, House said. Though it’s easy to get “caught up in the business of business,” House urges GCs to pay attention to the professional development of their lawyers. “There’s certainly a recognition that you have to train people for in-house practice,” said House. “Your practice is in a different culture.” Ursula Furi-Perry is an attorney and a nationally published writer on legal issues.

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