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For years, large firms have had recruiting professionals in place to hire the best and the brightest law students. But with the last few years bringing major associate salary raises, a proliferation of lateral movement, and immense lawyer growth and geographic expansion, several large firms have taken a new step to protect their investment in young talent. Now, several Philadelphia firms have decided to create new administrative positions specifically centered on associate development. Others have entrusted a partner or committee of lawyers with that responsibility. No matter the method, the goal is the same; improve associate retention rates and develop more polished lawyers. Sharon Buckingham, Pepper Hamilton’s director of recruitment and professional development for the last seven years, was recently promoted to director of associate development. While she has traditionally focused on recruitment and retention, the former was emphasized more in her duties because the issues surrounding it tended to be more pressing on a daily basis. Firm management is currently looking to hire a recruiting professional so Buckingham, a former Pepper associate who also taught two years at Villanova University Law School, can focus on associate evaluation, mentoring and training programs, and other retention-based issues. Like Buckingham, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis’ Julia Fineman had been splitting her time between recruitment and retention until a recent promotion to fully focus on retention. And Cozen & O’Connor has hired Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young’s director of professional programming, Deirdre Mullen, to take on a newly created director of associate development position. “We’re trying to take better care of the investment we’ve made in the people we recruit,” Buckingham said. “And through that we want to foster a feeling to associates that makes them feel more invested in the firm. Somewhere along the way that disappeared [in law firm culture]. But I think firms are asking themselves more and more what they could have done to keep the people they lost.” Fineman believes the six-figure salary investment in new recruits has forced firms to take a hard look at retention. “Hiring someone is expensive these days but replacing someone [who laterals out of a firm] is even more expensive,” Fineman said. At Cozen, which has always tried to sell itself as a firm that focuses on keeping recruits around for the long haul, the new position is consistent with promoting that notion, according to director of legal recruiting Lori Rosenberg. She said it’s definitely a benefit that Mullen, like Buckingham, used to practice law at a big Philadelphia law firm (Morgan Lewis & Bockius in Mullen’s case). And just what are these administrators doing all day in their new posts? Among other things, creating and implementing mentoring and training programs, overseeing associate performance evaluations, compiling research on associate compensation, working out sticky personnel problems, integrating lateral hires into the firm and working with attorneys on developing their business-getting skills. Buckingham said many of those things fit into her previous job description but she didn’t have enough time to focus on them. Now she can be more hands on. During the associate evaluation process, for instance, she can spend more time with an associate to figure out ways to enhance their performance. Fineman said she now has more time to work with newly hired associates. And Schnader — with two mergers that encompassed 90 additional lawyers during the past six months — certainly has enough of them. With all the recent additions, though, the firm can pick up ideas from its newcomers. A partner from Schnader’s two-year-old San Francisco office worked for a firm with a top-flight trial advocacy program. He now serves on Schnader’s associate development committee and has seen many of his ideas in that area folded into his new firm’s programming. Other firms are looking for such administrators. Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads has looked to add an associate development professional but has yet to find the right fit. Chairman David Marion said firms are becoming distressed at the high rate of associate turnover and are looking at ways to curb it. “Lawyers didn’t go to law school for that, and they get nervous so they go out and call in some outside help,” Marion said. “But you have to determine whether it is worth the additional expense or whether you might be able to handle in from within. And plus, you have to make sure you find the right person.” And that is not as easy as one might think. Just as marketing administrators have been promoted through the ranks over the past decade, so now are recruiting professionals. But the talent pool for experienced recruiters with the capacity to understand the nuances of practice areas and lawyering is in short supply. So firms are promoting from within or hiring away experienced administrators from other firms. There are also some firms that feel more comfortable having their own lawyers deal with associate development. Last fall, Dechert Price & Rhoads installed Steve Brown in the newly created position of associate development partner. He said he deals mainly with mentoring and counseling while administrators are assigned to deal with practice development in each practice area. “We had systems in place to deal with training and professional development, but it wasn’t managed centrally,” Brown said. “With firms being so much bigger today than they used to be, it created the need for more management in several areas and this is just one of them. But I also think you want to use that to promote consistency — to make sure all of our associates get everything they need to develop as lawyers.” At Saul Ewing Remick & Saul, Baltimore-based partner Dana Pescosolido came up with the idea of starting an associate development committee earlier this year. The group has made several policy-change suggestions to the firm’s executive committee concerning training, compensation, quality of life and business development that he expects it will roll out later this year. “I just felt we needed to be more pro-active in making sure our associates have the best chance at developing,” he said. “And we don’t want to lose people because they don’t feel like we’re investing our time and energy into them.” At Pepper, though, the firm felt to make the retention effort work, it needed to have someone in charge who is focusing entirely on that rather than adding it onto other practice and firm management responsibilities. The firm has also created a director of professionalism position to deal with pro bono and professional responsibility matters. And they’re not alone. Cozen is bringing in a new human resources administrator, and Montgomery McCracken is considering creating an administrative position solely geared toward enhancing firm diversity. Fineman said, while she believes any associate development effort needs the active participation of firm partners if it’s going to work, she thinks an administrator is the best person to spearhead it. “I think associates, specifically junior associates, are more comfortable approaching administrators about some of these issues,” Fineman said. “I just think it’s less intimidating.”

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