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New data that will shed light on why associates change jobs are being compiled for publication by the NALP Foundation for Research and Education. The initial findings, being readied for release in a March 2000 comprehensive report, “The Lateral Lawyer: Changing Jobs, Challenging Protocol,” are rich with insight on the motivations behind associate job changes. For example, in this frenzied “compensation is everything” market, who might have guessed that more than three-quarters of the 2,200 lateral associates participating in the study would report that among the top five factors motivating their change, it was professional development interests, not financial incentives, that influenced them most? The data reveal that financial interests, although one of the top five factors, was third on the list of influences, following professional development and practice interests. So, is management ready to accept that lateral moves are not entirely about the money? That is a tough threshold for management to cross, given the fact that how much an associate earns has been propelled to an unparalleled level of importance and focus during the past year or so. According to National Association of Law Placement data on associate salaries, between the fall of 1998 and fall of 2000, entry-level associate compensation increased by as much as 60 percent in many major markets. What is more, Hildebrandt Inc. reported that nationwide, the aggregate associate compensation increased by about 9 percent during 2000 alone. These facts, and the fatter paychecks that have resulted, certainly have not gone unnoticed by associates. But neither have associates become oblivious to or less focused on the “other” characteristics that they deem critical to a satisfying legal career. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT The initial data from “Lateral Lawyers” confirms what many other studies have revealed: that professional development remains a priority for associates — and thus, for managers committed to improving retention of top associates. The data suggest that there can be little question about the significant role that development plays in associate satisfaction and retention, as a bottom-line issue affecting their productivity, and subsequently, the profitability of the firm. Law firms must respond to the fact that the new hires, whether entry-level or lateral associates, will arrive with many variations in their skills. Firms need to accurately diagnose the skill level of each new hire, and subsequently, provide appropriate remediation as needed. Any “gaps” in the new hires’ education and skill must be addressed while taking full advantage of skills that are already in place. In today’s fast-paced legal environment, even the least experienced lawyers are increasingly being called upon to exercise exemplary judgement in case and client management. Professional development programs allow young lawyers to get the experience they need to take on more challenging work — a key factor in their job satisfaction. KNOWLEDGE GAP Bruce Tulgan, an expert on development of talent and author of “Winning the Talent Wars” (W.W. Norton, 2001), has suggested that people learn best when pursuing information and training because they have a skill or knowledge gap that is preventing them from achieving a valued tangible result. Pity the law firm associate with such a gap and a client waiting who is told only that “We’ll have a training program for that in about three months. Be sure to sign up for it.” Tulgan said not only are associates certain to be frustrated with ill-timed training, but they will not show up for the program when it is finally offered because more likely than not, they will have found a way to learn what they needed to learn when they needed to learn it. “Today’s young professionals do not learn this way because they have short attention spans,” Tulgan said, “but rather, it is in sync with the tidal wave of information in which they are living and working every day.” TWO WAYS TO LEARN The adage “most people learn in two basic ways: from other people and by personal discovery” says it all. Associates will find a way to get the information and instruction they need, and the data from the “Lateral Lawyer” study suggest that they may change employers to do so. Tulgan suggests that when considering the need for professional development and training, it is wise to remember the classic query of students who ask their teachers “Is this going to be on the test?” It is a question teachers loathe. But it is a valid question for today’s young professionals because it takes into account the fact that the information age keeps everyone struggling to stay ahead of the accelerating obsolescence of certain knowledge and skills. In a law firm, if it is on the “test,” which means it is an expected proficiency for associates to demonstrate during their day-to-day interaction with partners and clients, it should be included in a timely training and development program. Through instruction and practice using technical skills, associates likely feel more in control of their careers; they feel empowered and capable of accepting or seeking out new and more complex assignments. Most law firms readily acknowledge that associate professional development is a complex undertaking that can have a significant impact on the firm’s retention of associates, as well as on lawyer morale and productivity. As reported in the NALP Foundation’s 2000 research report entitled “Beyond the Bidding Wars,” most law offices (about 93 percent) report having some individual charged with oversight of associate professional development, with that function in whole or part a committee responsibility in about one-third of the offices. Today’s professional development administrator is charged with the responsibility of developing and sustaining a large skills development strategy that meets the needs of diverse individual attorneys while addressing the business goals of the firm. For many professional development administrators, this responsibility will include, without excluding many other responsibilities, these and other activities: � Leading the synthesis of skills benchmarks for associate development by both class and practice group; � Working with practice group leaders and supervisors to provide needed training and development opportunities in an “on-time” delivery mode; � Conceiving and administering effective associate evaluation processes; � Managing orientation and assimilation for entry-level and lateral hires; � Administering work assignment processes to align with training and evaluations; � Managing mentoring and rotation programs; and � Tracking the training and work assignment experiences of individual lawyers. The benefits to the firm are measurable when a qualified administrator fulfills the responsibilities of associate professional development. By the same token, the power that professional development programs wield in the lives of young lawyers is very potent. First, there is the message a strong professional development program sends to recruits and associates alike. A firm that is willing to commit its resources toward associate development is communicating its commitment to the future of its associates. Second, every young lawyer recognizes the gaps between law school preparation for practice and the demands of practicing in the real world. A coherent professional development program can reassure as well as fully equip lawyers for the tasks they are going to confront. In the final analysis, it truly is not just about the money when it comes to the factors motivating associate lateral movement. The voices of associates through studies like “Lateral Lawyer” and the “votes” of associates as they pursue better professional development opportunities through job changes are clear indicators of the value they place on characteristics of their work that extend far beyond compensation. Paula A. Patton is executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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