Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
A law firm is the ultimate “elevator resource” business. The essential asset base of any law firm, its lawyers and staff, rides up and down the elevators every day. If they are not well-trained and well-suited to the services they provide, and if they are not retained at the firm, over time the firm’s success will be jeopardized. Yet there is a widespread attitude among lawyers at many firms that training and development functions are “not part of my job description.” This article explores some of the rationalizations that can produce resistance to participation in effective training and development, explains a few of the reasons why it is important to participate in the training and development process, and suggests some simple ways by which even the busiest lawyers (even relatively junior lawyers) can participate in that process. TOWN COMMONS If you own your own home, you are likely to spend time keeping it well-maintained. You cut the grass in the back yard, you paint the house, you rake the leaves. The town commons, however, is not something you own. Thus, although you may care in a general way whether it is well-maintained, you would probably not be willing to cut the grass, paint the buildings and rake the leaves on the commons. That, you figure, is someone else’s job. That scenario, of course, is not precisely the same as the circumstance of a law firm, but it is close. The human resources of a law firm are not “owned” by anyone in particular. They are common resources. Thus, there is a danger that the cultivation and maintenance of these resources may be neglected. Individual justifications for this view may come in many forms: � Many junior lawyers may view training as exclusively a responsibility of the partners. Indeed, there may appear to be some hubris inherent in one associate claiming that he or she knows so much about a subject that he or she is entitled to teach the subject to others. And yet, for virtually every skill or subject, there is a continuum of experience and ability. Even relatively junior associates may be able to show new-comers many useful techniques for improving practices. At very least, relatively junior lawyers can identify (and help newcomers avoid) some of the common mistakes that they have already made. � Senior lawyers may adopt the defeatist view that, since many junior lawyers may leave a firm in the first few years of practice, there seems to be little point in spending time on training and development. That view ignores the significant morale and quality control problems that may be created by ignoring training and development. Longterm, moreover, that view may seriously jeopardize a firm’s recruiting and retention capabilities. � Some senior lawyers react to the problem by citing billable hours and client cost concerns. Training and development takes time, much of which cannot be accounted for with conventional billing. In the short term, therefore, training and development may require some sacrifice (either in billing some time to an office function, rather than a client, or in spending time to develop methods that incorporate training into client service). In the longer term, however, training and development are critical to a law firm’s success. No matter your level in a law firm, it is vital to have support for your work. Even the most junior lawyer must be able to rely on secretaries, paralegals and administrative staff to perform tasks that permit efficient operations. As you move up in the hierarchy of the firm, moreover, this need only increases. In essence, to free a mid-level or senior lawyer for more demanding work, junior lawyers and staff must be well-trained and oriented to perform their level of work reliably and efficiently. MULTILEVEL PRACTICE TEAM Indeed, clients increasingly expect their outside counsel to be able to create a multilevel practice team with the ability to perform well at all levels. Clients also expect that such teams will be well-managed and coordinated, such that they need not always call the most senior (most expensive, and often least available) lawyer to answer their questions and respond to their problems. The inability to establish and manage such teams can become a real detriment to effective client service. At the individual level, moreover, the most senior lawyers in a firm expect their up-and-coming junior lawyers to learn how to delegate to, and manage, subordinates. One of the skills that may differentiate between those who are selected for senior positions (including partnership) and those who are not, is the ability to participate in the training and development of junior talent. Participation in training and development can also add greatly to your efforts to establish yourself as an expert practitioner in your area. The effort to organize and crystallize your thinking on a subject, in order to teach it, often is quite useful. Concepts that may be rattling around in your mind as vague guides may become much clearer when you are forced to articulate them in public. The recognition that comes from becoming a visible teacher (and thus, implicitly, an expert) on a subject may also benefit your status within the firm, and the profession. Indeed, often internal training sessions can be easily converted to articles, speeches and client seminars, which may become useful business development tools. HOW TO PARTICIPATE Training and development efforts, like any other behavior, must begin with some personal assessment, and formulation of a plan that is appropriate to your individual needs and circumstances. Not every lawyer will participate in training and development to the fullest possible extent. What is right for one lawyer may not be right for another. Nevertheless, a resolve to try to do something in the training and development area, and the identification of some steps that can be easily implemented in this area, are the most important elements of the effort. If the plan is simple, logical and sustainable (not viewed as drudgery but as an opportunity), then it will succeed. If, on the other hand, a lawyer holds on to the notions that this is not an important aspect of the practice of law, or that “somebody else” should perform this function, then no plan will work in practice. Some potential steps in a training and development plan, ranged generally from the easiest to the most challenging, include the following: � Identify a need. Perhaps one of the most classic problems in the training and development area is the fact that gaps in a firm’s training and development programs are often hiding in plain sight. It may be quite obvious to you that there is a problem. Whenever you find yourself thinking something like, “our junior lawyers just don’t seem to know enough about ____,” your instinct should be to do more than silently fume. Find out who at the firm takes principal responsibility for coordinating training efforts. If there is no one, contact the head of your practice group or office. Let them know that you think there is a need for training in a specific area, and why you think this training is important. In many instances, you may be asked whether you would be willing to provide such training. Even if you are not willing to do the training (due to work constraints or otherwise) you should at least be able to identify the specific elements that should be covered by the training, which will help someone else do the job. � Identify reference materials. In the course of your practice, you may discover useful materials of various types (articles, books, outlines, sample documents and other items). If you find something that is particularly useful, share it with others. Consider sending a memo or e-mail to your group or office, referencing the useful materials. Your office librarians or group administrators may also have a practice of circulating reading materials to lawyers. You may be able to make use of those systems. At a minimum, consider bringing the useful material to the attention of your firm’s training coordinators, or group heads, who may decide how best to use and distribute the references. � Identify good teachers. If you have had a very positive learning experience working with a more senior lawyer, encourage him or her to extend the impact of that training by offering an education program to a wider group. Often you may find that such teachers have tutored a number of junior lawyers on an essential aspect of the practice, but may simply have never been asked to teach to a larger audience. � Be a good student model. Set aside the time to attend professional education programs that are meaningful to you and encourage others to do the same. In doing so, you help create an atmosphere where lawyers come to think of training as a normal part of everyday law firm life. � Take time to correct mistakes. Often, one of the greatest learning opportunities is the occasion when a subordinate makes a mistake. The challenge is to make sure that the mistake does not occur again (on your work, or on any other lawyer’s projects). Assign yourself the responsibility for raising the issue on the next available occasion. Such a conversation may be a brief, natural part of daily interactions. In some instances, however (as when a project ends or a lawyer is out of town for an extended period) there may be a lapse of time between the time that the mistake appears and when you have time to discuss it. If the mistake was important enough to cause you concern, however, you must put the corrective discussion on your “to do” list. � Listen to your subordinates. The only way to discover what level of mastery your subordinates have of substantive law and practice skills in your area is to ask them questions and closely observe their performance. Merely issuing commands is not enough. When it becomes apparent that a subordinate requires additional training in a particular area, refer him or her to a resource that you think might be helpful. Such resources could include treatises, articles or courses on a subject of interest. Such resources, however, may also include experience working on certain types of matters, or working with specific lawyers, which can extend knowledge and skills in the required area. Encourage and facilitate such assignments, where possible. � Become a mentor. Where you see the potential for growth in a subordinate from developing a more continuous relationship, offer to become a mentor. Many firms support such relationships through formal programs. Even if there is no formal program, however, a simple reminder to yourself to check in periodically with your mentee, to discuss progress, interests and any problems, can be a vital method of fostering development. � Teach, teach, teach. Where you know there is a need for training in a particular area, and you also know that you are qualified to teach in that area, offer to teach. Contact your training coordinator or group head to make arrangements. Your commitment to teach need not be burdensome. Often, a training program need only be offered once every few years to be effective. It may be possible after a time or two teaching a subject, moreover, to hand off teaching responsibility to a colleague or subordinate who has developed a similar skill and interest in teaching. CONCLUSION The responsibility for training and development in a law firm is part of every lawyer’s job. Training and development efforts need not be onerous or particularly time-consuming. Even the smallest efforts, over time, can make a large difference in improving the effectiveness of the firm’s lawyers and staff, and in enhancing the professional atmosphere of the firm. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue and co-director of the New Associates Group there. The views expressed are those of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s firm or its clients.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.