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As a court reporter busily records the plaintiff’s statement, a young attorney’s eyes dart around the room as he racks his brains for his next calculated move. It’s a scene common to law firms in all ways but one: None of it is real. This scenario is the culmination of Dechert’s first-year associate training program. During the course of several days, the 20 first years in Dechert’s Philadelphia and Princeton, N.J., offices will engage in a one-hour, taped deposition and then submit to a critique by their peers. “This is the opportunity for them to take a deposition and then get the type of valuable feedback that a more experienced associate is able to give them,” said Kathy Ann Bixby, litigation administrator and coordinator of the program. “After this, most of them will be on the street, and, after our training program, I feel comfortable that most of them will be ready to go.” First-year associate training has experienced a great expansion in the past five years, and, in the aftermath of last year’s salary wars, the Philadelphia Bar Association feared there would be an adverse effect on such programs. As salaries rise, firms are motivated to increase associate billable hours and decrease the amount of in-house training. Now that things have settled down, it seems that the need to compensate for the larger paychecks has led to a twofold change in training culture. The first change is the increase in associate billable hours, especially among larger firms. “Firms paying more money for their associates means more billable hours for those associates to fulfill,” said James Elam, president of the young lawyers division of the Bar Association and a fourth-year associate with Dilworth Paxson. “There are much greater expectations on associates based on salary and hourly requirements.” The second effect of the salary change has been to increase associate training early in the hope that a more rigorous first- and second-year program will increase the likelihood for associate retention and greater profits at a quicker pace. “In the past year, there has definitely been a greater awareness of the need for first-year associate training,” said Robert Denney, legal consultant with Robert Denney & Associates of Wayne, Pa. “Much of it has to do with the big jump in associate salaries. There is a need to get the new associates as productive as possible as soon as possible.” Productivity isn’t the only benefit gained from increased first-year training. With firms bidding for top associate candidates, training programs have become more than simply skill builders; they have become a recruiting tool and a way to integrate the young lawyers into the firm. “We are trying to produce lawyers who are unique to our firm,” Duane Morris & Heckscher hiring partner James Holman said. “With people often changing firms to go to the highest bidder, we want to make sure that their experience here is not just profitable but is something they can benefit from in the long run.” PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT The newfound importance of early training has led to the creation of a number of new positions within law firms. Positions such as director of professionalism and director of associate development have appeared on the rosters of many Philadelphia firms. These spaces are filled by administrative staff, senior associates and partners, with the aim of making sure training programs are a smooth operation. For example, in October, Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen hired a former clinical faculty member from the University of Pennsylvania, Colleen Coonelly, to coordinate associate training. “I think that’s the way to go,” Coonelly said, “a lawyer with teacher expertise to coordinate training. It gives them the pedagogical support from a teaching perspective. The very best training that any lawyer is going to get is working in hands-on situations with great lawyers who care about their clients.” The training formula for accomplishing these ends is the same across most firms. A combination of individualized training by department, mentoring programs, pro bono work and simulation exercises serves to prepare associates for the tasks that lie ahead. What differs among firms is the emphasis placed on each of those factors. Some firms find the most value in pro bono experience, which gives a young lawyer the opportunity not only to give back to the community, but also to practice the skills and techniques on cases of a smaller scale. “To us, pro bono work is very important as a training tool because we are a large firm and tend to have larger cases that don’t allow young lawyers much of an opportunity to do stuff,” said Janet Perry, director of professionalism with Pepper Hamilton, a firm that puts new associates through a compulsory two-year training program using pro bono work, mentoring and weekly seminars. “With pro bono, the cases are often of a more manageable proportion.” Not only are pro bono cases smaller, they give the associates the opportunity to try out their skills in less stressful situations. “Working in pro bono matters is always great,” Elam said. “You can get some firsthand experience and learn to apply the things you’ve been taught without getting burned.” Other firms find that the mentoring aspect of training is most valuable to a young associate. These mentoring programs run the gamut from senior associate mentors to partner mentors. Through mentoring, most firms hope to instill a sense of unity within the firm and to help associates through any pitfalls occurring early in their practice. Dechert’s training consists of two mentors, a more experienced associate and a partner mentor. “They are there for us to ask questions about firm life, general practice and how to develop professionally,” said Jason Murtagh, the first-year associate at Dechert who was taking the mock deposition in the Dechert training program. “I know I have utilized both of their expertise a number of times.” This is not the only mentoring that Murtagh, who will review his deposition tape with a mentoring lawyer in the days to come, will receive. At the conclusion of his mock deposition, Murtagh received feedback both from the associates from whom he was taking the deposition and from the court reporter. Their input varied from suggesting further lines of questioning to improving professional demeanor — the kinds of things young lawyers should be aware of before entering into their first depositions. “I know they’re going to be honest in their critique of me and my mistakes,” Murtagh said. “This way, I know what I need to work out. I think getting the opportunity to do a dry run like this is an invaluable opportunity.” Simulation programs such as the one practiced at Dechert are becoming more common among litigation departments as employers realize their usefulness. Other departments, corporate being one, tend to focus on skill-specific seminar training. These seminars usually meet once weekly and provide the opportunity for associates to brainstorm with one another and to borrow the expertise of more experienced lawyers in their departments. Training will remain an integral part of the associate experience. “In order for firms to justify charging their fees to clients, the associates they employ must be well-trained, and, because of this, many of the firms must take training very seriously,” said Joel Rose, legal consultant with Joel Rose & Associates of Cherry Hill, N.J.

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