Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
When DLA Piper partner Heidi Levine got a call from one of the firm’s managing partners two years ago asking her to pack her bags for a weeklong stay at Harvard Business School’s leadership training program, she could hardly say no. Not that she wanted to. A partner for about four years at the time, Levine said she was “flipping out” about the billable hours she would forfeit during her stay. But she was excited about the prospect of sitting alongside some of the firm’s more senior partners and taking pointers from educators at one of the country’s leading universities. “It was serious business,” said Levine, whose practice focuses on products liability and mass torts. Levine is among thousands of attorneys at law firms nationwide who have participated in leadership training programs in the past few years. Whether the programs involve white-water rafting trips, stints at renowned business schools or sessions with consultants brought on site, law firms are paying millions of dollars to have their attorneys worry over case studies and submit to personality profile tests. Tangible returns? But questions remain as to whether law firms are seeing tangible returns on their investments and whether all that training is, in fact, creating so-called leaders. “It is not at all immediately clear that leadership skills are the skills that are going to be best for a law firm,” said Paul Zwier, a professor at Emory University School of Law. Zwier, author of the book Supervisory and Leadership Skills in the Modern Law Practice (National Institute for Trial Advocacy, 2006), said that in some cases leadership training can serve as an “opium of the masses.” In other words, what some firms call “leadership training” in reality is a way to get lawyers on board with a firm’s strategy, rather than truly honing leadership skills. Dubbing it “leadership training” can make participants more willing to sign on to a program and feel more valued if they think that they are recognized as special. However, Zwier said that even lawyers without supervisory duties within a firm need leadership skills, since such skills are necessary in dealing with clients. A wide variety of leadership training programs are available for law firms. They range from free local bar association presentations, to personalized executive coaching sessions to weeklong events costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, DLA Piper’s customized arrangement with Harvard cost upward of $400,000 annually. Zwier is a proponent of opportunities for lawyers to step away from time sheets and come together for a common purpose � regardless of the form the training takes or what it is called. “Any time people get together to talk about something other than billable hours, I think it’s valuable, whether or not you can say that is has really changed their behavior,” he said. In Levine’s case, she points to specific benefits she received from Harvard’s training. As someone who already leads groups of people working on cases, she said supervisory skills were her strength. But she needed to enhance her knowledge of law firm economics and client-relationship management. That information, plus the connections that she made with other partners at the training, helped her win the lead spot making a pitch to a potential global client, Linde Group. The firm landed the client, an industrial gas and engineering company. “I actually used what I learned,” she said. A big reason law firms sign up for leadership training is to integrate cultures, said Judy McHugh, senior director of Wharton Executive Education, a program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The executive education program has provided training for law firms including Reed Smith. “We see terrific lawyers with terrific egos,” McHugh said. In an era of law firm consolidation, shops that have grown rapidly through mergers want programs that will help deliver a common message for attorneys to bring cohesion to an organization, she said. Four years ago, the executive education program at Wharton had “no law firm business � zero,” she said. Programs at the school generally last two to four days and cost roughly between $150,000 to $300,000, she said. Sessions usually include about 30 partners. Although William Lee is a big proponent of leadership training, he said that its effectiveness is difficult to measure with precision. Still, the co-managing partner of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr points to several of the firm’s partners � including Paul Engelmayer, a partner in charge of the New York office, and David Bassett, chairman of the intellectual property litigation practice group � as examples of the program’s success. “I know they’re better than they would have been without it,” Lee said. Everyone from junior associates to senior partners receives some form of leadership training at WilmerHale, noted Lee, who said even new associates have responsibilities that require such skills. The firm’s programs have varied from multiday events at Harvard to in-house training. The ultimate goal, he said, is to “lead to better cultures.” Law firms that fail to see discernible results from money they spend on leadership training may be taking the wrong approach, said Larry Richard, an attorney and psychologist with Hildebrandt International, a law firm consultancy. Hildebrandt offers its own leadership courses. To truly change behavior, training must include much more than a few days at an impressive school, Richard said. He divides programs into two categories: conceptual education and skills-based education. Conceptual education models are the popular “boot-camp” executive programs offered at prestigious schools that use mainly the case-study method. Those programs are valuable, he said, but limited. Attorneys also need long-term training, or skills-based education, to enhance specific leadership behaviors, which are more readily measurable. Law firms can look at “indirect measures,” which can indicate whether a firm is benefiting from leadership training, Richard said, but those outcomes may be merely correlative. Firms that see improvement in associate and partner retention or revenues may attribute such improvements to training, when they may be a consequence of the economy or the job market. Ascertaining a program’s effectiveness requires a competency-based “360-degree” survey, he said, administered to attorneys before and after training. The difficult part is getting firms to set aside time for ongoing training and evaluation sessions before and after, he said. And although not everyone can become a firm leader, he said, the training can be beneficial for all, since the more that rank-and-file attorneys know about a firm’s strategy, the easier it becomes for those attorneys to allow leaders to do their jobs. Sandy Thomas, manager of the regulatory litigation practice at Reed Smith, admitted that he had doubts about leadership training at first. He attended a Wharton program in 2006. Part of the program, custom-designed for Reed Smith, was to enable participants to recognize personality types within a law firm, so that the trainees could learn to deal with them more effectively. He recalled types such as The Talker, Mr. Negative and the achiever who just wants to be left alone. “I was persuaded that there was something to these types,” he said.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.