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Not all that long ago, young associates spent a great deal of time early in their careers following a partner to court and meetings, not contributing much other than, perhaps, carrying the extra briefcase. Then, at some point in the last dozen years, cost-conscious clients balked at paying an attorney who was not clearly adding value. The large firms obliged and stopped allowing junior lawyers to tag along to client meetings or hearings, instead relegating them to the library. But consigning new associates solely to back-office work also has a price. After all, new lawyers who spend all their time Shepardizing cases have a hard time learning the practical realities of negotiation, handling clients or keeping their cool in court. Now, in hopes of teaching young associates the ropes, firms are putting their own resources into training. They offer in-house seminars, mentoring programs and week-long orientations; most dramatically, at least two large firms in the country have also started a formal on-the-job training program. Last September, the 460-lawyer Proskauer Rose began a “shadowing” program, where first-year associates tag along with partners to meetings, bargaining sessions and court appearances at no cost to the client. “Learning by observing is one of the great ways lawyers learn,” said Proskauer partner Arnold Levine, who helped develop the program. “We wanted to let people assimilate experience,” he continued, adding, “by watching different styles, you become much more comfortable doing it yourself.” Levine said that the Proskauer program grew from a sense that training of new attorneys had suffered in recent years, leading to a long-term decrease in efficiency. “Avoiding excess billing has caused firms to develop practices that detract from training,” he said, but the result was that “sometimes, first-year lawyers were not as productive as second- and third-years and were coming on stream more slowly.” The idea behind shadowing, said Levine, was to recreate the informal system that existed when he first started practicing in 1962. “There were a lot of situations where I sat at meetings and didn’t have a lot to contribute.” Even as recently as 10 years ago, young lawyers at Proskauer spent more time simply watching senior attorneys than today. While Proskauer is one of the only large New York firms to have instituted a large-scale shadowing program, it was not the first firm in the country to do so. In the fall of 1996, Baltimore-based Venable, Baetjer & Howard LLP instituted a program where associates receive up to 300 billable hour credits in their first two years for training, including on-the-job training. “What we specifically want is for the associate to go to the hearing, to the deposition and to the table in a transaction,” said James Shea, managing partner of the 350-lawyer firm. SHADOWY SPRINGBOARD Proskauer allows first-years to spend up to 200 hours shadowing, although few associates used that much time last year. It was more typical for first-years to allot between 50 and 100 hours to shadowing, according to partner Robert Kafin. Part of the explanation, said Kafin, is that associates who started out shadowing partners on a case ended up doing billable work on the same case. “If a person sat in on meetings, it made more sense for that person to follow through,” explained Kafin. Several Proskauer associates said they found the program useful and learned that it led to more challenging work. First-year corporate associate Sarah Deitch ended up working on an initial public offering in her second month at the firm, after spending more than 25 hours shadowing a partner at the initial meetings and drafting sessions. “You hear about IPOs. As a first-year associate you might work on IPOs, but only do back-office work … due diligence, reviewing documents, the boring part of it,” she said, explaining that she had not expected to be sitting in on client meetings so early in her career. Likewise, labor and employment first-year Heather Pearson attended every negotiating session between the health care workers union and the Staten Island Medical Group earlier this year. She likened the experience to a “one-on-one tutorial” with the partner. “These days, when you start out as a lawyer, you see one side of the law, which is research. This program shows you what it’s like to have a career as a lawyer,” she said. IMPLEMENTATION IS KEY In general, legal consultants are favorably impressed when firms make efforts to train new associates, but warn that even the best-intentioned program can fail if the implementation is poor. Susan Raridon Lambreth, a consultant with Hildebrandt International, said that she was in favor of “anything that encourages people to take young people to meetings.” However, she cautioned, shadowing alone is not the best way to develop an associate’s judgment. The partner who is doing the training should also ask the associate to think about what might happen and how he or she would handle it in advance, and then debrief after the event. Maryann Hedaa, also of Hildebrandt, praised the Proskauer initiative as innovative but, like Lambreth, warned that there are pitfalls in mentoring programs. “Most formal mentoring programs fail,” she said. “The key to a good mentoring program is to have it happen naturally and to move between formal and informal mentoring.”

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