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In today’s highly competitive talent market, an evolutionary change to career development is currently underway. Instead of working for years at the same law firm waiting to be chosen partner, more and more associates are choosing firms where they want to be made partner. Unfortunately, too many firms continue to operate under the assumption that they choose the people they want to keep. However, the current reality is that firms have lost control over the career choices of their legal professionals. This emerging trend is well documented. Statistical evidence can be found in the results of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Survey of Associate Attrition, Departure Destinations & Workplace Incentives report for 2000. It notes that just under half of the associates surveyed changed jobs by moving from one firm to another and, of these, 50-70 percent did so within the same city. This is an alarming statistic and it suggests that associates are taking back control over their career directions by actively choosing firms that provide, among other things, strong management and leadership, thoughtful professional relationships, and exciting and rewarding challenges. What can law firms do to adjust to the new market reality? First, they can become a “firm of choice,” not simply a firm that chooses who makes partner. To do this, firms need to help their professionals take charge of their own careers by organizing a strategic approach to managing talent. To achieve this goal, many firms have begun to establish thoughtful professional development programs that provide ongoing care and support for associates who are trying to determine their professional identities. What remains unclear is whether firms will follow through with these programs. Over the next few years, the law firms that do so successfully will become industry leaders. Poor professional development and career management planning stems from the commonly held belief that management, like administration, is a secondary, non-billable activity. Most partners are either too busy with their own clients or too reluctant to invest firm resources in these kinds of activities, or they are not held accountable for the results. And that does not mean just a problem with younger associate attrition, but, as will be seen in the case study presented below, the possibility that the wrong people stay with the firm and make partner, and/or that they do not manage their new status well. The four law firms listed in Fortune magazine’s recent list of the most-admired companies in America — Fenwick & West (#7); Alston & Bird (#24); Brobeck, Phleger, & Harrison (#84); and McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enerson (#97) — are there in part because they hire professional development personnel. They also implement and measure the types of performance-based management practices that are commonly employed in other professional service firms. Effective human resource management should be the goal of firms — including the one of which you are now a part owner — seeking to establish a competitive advantage where few firms have — in the area of professional development. Professional development is part of the firm’s strategic intent to attract, retain, and provide ongoing care for its most precious resource, legal talent. The challenge is to become a recognized “firm of choice” in the legal community. Doing so will not only bolster a firm’s image in the eyes of its clients and employees, but will also draw the interest of the best legal talent in the marketplace. TRANSITION CASE STUDY There is perhaps no more important transition in an attorney’s career than when he or she makes partner. Unfortunately, most law firms do not take full advantage of the opportunity to prepare new partners for their new role and responsibilities. More often than not, instead of focusing on how to ease the new partner’s transition into ownership, law firms focus on the partner’s past accomplishments as a business generator and source of revenue. As a result, transitions are not forward thinking and are managed so awkwardly that many new partners end up questioning why they chose the partnership track in the first place. The following is a case study based on interviews with several new partners about their transition experiences. What would you and your firm do to assist Chris Sample in his transition? Chris Sample. The plane had finally taken off after a four-hour delay on the tarmac at San Francisco International Airport. Chris Sample felt relieved as the plane taxied up the runway. He had made a firm promise to his daughter that he would be home for her birthday. Chris had just finished three days of marathon merger negotiations with one of his Palo Alto, Calif., clients. This was his fourth red-eye in 16 days. Chris is the newest partner in the intellectual property (IP) practice of a major New York City law firm. It is hard to believe that he has only been a partner for six months. As a senior associate his schedule had been grueling. Now it was even worse. Maybe his wife was right a year ago when she began questioning him about his desire to be a partner at the firm. She even encouraged him to consider returning to New Hampshire to practice at a smaller firm. The idea had appeal as he began yet another red-eye flight home. Chris was lucky to have the single center aisle seat. He was left to his own thoughts as he began dinner. Not surprisingly, his mind reflected on his experiences as a new partner and he began to question how well he was doing. For the past seven years, his focus had been on pleasing the partners in order to be chosen by the firm. Suddenly, he found himself questioning whether the firm’s choice of him reflected his choice of the firm. He felt as though he had more confidence in himself and the firm as a senior associate. When he thought about how being a partner was different, he could only come up with a list that included reading more firm communications, attending more meetings, performing more firm administrative tasks, spending more time on practice management, and not receiving a great increase in compensation. Chris had not felt this hassled or doubtful since his first year with the firm. The Past Six Months. Becoming a partner at age 34 was one of the greatest achievements in his legal career. Chris had worked hard and, from his first day at the firm, had felt that he was one of the star associates. His in-box was always full. He always had partners or clients asking for him and he was actively involved in the development of the firm’s IP practice. One month after making partner, Chris was told that he would become the partner in charge of work assignments for the associates in his group. The IP group is comprised of 10 partners and 25 full-time associates, as well as several associates from other practice groups who devote part of their time to the IP practice. As the work assignments partner, he had to make sure that associates were being assigned to transactions that were developmental and that gave them the opportunity to work with multiple partners. What he inherited with this role was an administrative and interpersonal nightmare. Several partners worked totally outside of the work assignment process, including the partner who was Chris’ first mentor. To make matters even worse, many of the associates were well versed in how to dodge the assignment process in order to work on more challenging transactions with their favorite partners. Chris really doubted his ability to improve the work assignment process. However, the practice group leader indicated that every lawyer needed to develop management skills and Chris needed to consider this experience as on-the-job management training. In addition to this responsibility, in the same year Chris was named the captain of the Columbia University School of Law Recruiting Team. Due to his hectic travel schedule, he had missed several on-campus recruiting events. His colleagues teased him about being a “virtual” team member. In addition, recruiting at Columbia was becoming increasingly difficult because the firm did not have as many international opportunities as some of its competitors and had rated poorly in a recent survey on opportunities for women. Chris had always enjoyed campus recruiting, but this year he began seeing it more as an added burden. Chris’s Fundamental Concerns. In spite of the positive aspects of making partner, Chris was uneasy. He always felt out of control. His client work was growing, but he was always at the 11th hour with everything. He knew he had benefited from having a mentor and he considered himself an accessible person who was also good at training associates. However, he found himself increasingly relying on one or two associates and trying to avoid the rest because it was too time-consuming to train those who didn’t seem to get it. Chris began to think that he was not doing anything well, including being a husband and father. He had spent more time with his family as an associate. During the past six months, he had traveled more often, had left for work even earlier in the morning, had come home even later in the evening, and had canceled the second week of his vacation to return to work to manage a client emergency. Chris found himself increasingly discouraged. Maybe there was nothing to be done at this time. He wondered if he would ever feel comfortable being a partner. Several of his friends chose not to pursue the brass ring, and they seemed more content with their lives. One of his closest friends at another major firm recently chose to take advantage of the firm’s part-time option in order to spend more time on his own startup idea. He told Chris he was having a great time. “If only I could think this through with someone I trusted,” Chris thought, but let the idea go. He did not want to share his doubts with anyone at the firm. “Oh, hell,” he thought, “I’ve spent six hours in self-absorption, and I still have four client meetings and a birthday party to get ready for when I get home.” SUGGESTED SOLUTIONS Partner Orientation. The first thing Chris’ firm should have done is put him through a new partner orientation program that should have begun at least six months to a year before he was likely to be promoted. However, any new partner orientation process, whether it takes six months or a year, should not begin or end on the day the new partner names are announced publicly to the firm. Properly designed, these programs are ongoing and timed to address both the intellectual and the psychological effects of the transition. In many respects, the unnecessary psychological stress associated with Chris’s experience could have been mitigated through more communication and education early on. This would have afforded him both the knowledge and the time to talk about the transition with his peers, mentor, close friends, wife and family. New partner orientation is a process that other professional service firms manage thoughtfully and proactively. Tom Tierney, former Worldwide Managing Partner of Bain & Company, a global strategy consulting firm, believes that people are more receptive to new ideas when they are about to be promoted. Based on this knowledge, Tierney personally oversaw the development of a new partner orientation program at Bain that addressed both the personal and professional changes that come with partnership responsibilities. Many different kinds of orientation programs exist in other professional service firms. At Credit Suisse First Boston, Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) and General Electric, new partners (or managing directors) spend a number of intensive days learning about what it means to be an owner, what the firm’s strategy is, how the firm is organized, how the firm manages its finances, and what it means to be a client developer and trusted advisor, as well as what it means to be a manager and role model. Ongoing Career Support. Firms should also begin their career management processes earlier on in an associate’s career at the firm. If, as a summer associate, Chris’s firm had educated him about the importance of career management, he and the firm could have enjoyed many more years of working effectively together. By establishing a stronger sense of purpose and setting a clearer direction, Chris would have been empowered to take charge of his career from the beginning. Over time, he would have become more confident about the path he had chosen, not less so. He would have been better prepared to make difficult career decisions that would have helped to define his professional identity. Instead of being handed arbitrary responsibilities, Chris and his practice group leader could have worked out a plan that drew on Chris’ strengths and leveraged his personal interests for the strategic benefit of the firm. For example, if Chris is interested in and capable at college recruiting, then he should set some goals and focus his energies where he can make a difference. The work assignment process is broken because no one is being held accountable for its performance or responsible for playing by its rules, including Chris’ mentor. Chris won’t be able to change the work assignment system, so why should he waste his time trying to fix a management problem that the firm’s leadership is not committed to solving? Professional development planning is one of the most underutilized performance management techniques in the legal industry. Instead of bolting performance to a fixed billable hour commitment, firms need to set short- and long-term strategic goals against which an individual’s performance can be measured. Clarifying expectations and setting priorities will eliminate unnecessary stress and time wasted on activities that make no developmental sense. Without this process in place, however, too many partners end up like Chris, overextended, overworked and, ironically, underutilized. It all comes down to making firm choices that are designed to achieve strategic organizational goals that are aligned with opportunities for legal talent to develop a meaningful and successful professional identity. In our work, we have seen first-hand how making partner opens up a world of new possibilities. However, there is so much pressure involved that many (like Chris) begin to question what they are doing with their lives and careers. As a result, many end up leaving one firm in an attempt to start again at another. The challenge for firms today is to recognize that they are no longer in control of the career choices of their legal professionals. Instead, they need to support the individual’s quest to establish a successful professional identity. Doing so is not only the right thing to do for individuals, but also a strategic imperative for law firms. Maryann Hedaa and Charlie Douglas are consultants with the professional development practice group at Hildebrandt International.

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