Online education allows you to earn an advanced degree while sitting at your kitchen table. That may sound great to busy attorneys, but sometimes a classroom discussion can't be beat. In October, Reed Smith University classes began on the Philadelphia campus of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. Reed Smith conceived RSU to ensure that the firm's nearly 1,000 attorneys share a common outlook and training -- and because the firm has big plans.
By Ann Sherman|January 10, 2005 at 12:00 AM
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Online education has made it possible to earn an advanced degree while sitting at your kitchen table sipping coffee and interacting with instructors and fellow students in cyberspace. But while such flexibility may sound inviting for busy attorneys, sometimes a face-to-face classroom discussion just can’t be beat. In October, the first classes of Reed Smith University were offered on the Philadelphia campus of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. RSU is a joint effort of Wharton and Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith, which has nearly 1,000 lawyers in 14 offices in the United States and the United Kingdom. RSU’s genesis has many roots, but ultimately, it was created because firm leaders wanted to assure that their attorneys share a common outlook and training, and because and because the firm has big plans. The management team wants to grow the firm into a billion-dollar business. With gross revenue of $442 million in 2003, Reed Smith currently ranks 33rd on the Am Law 100 roster — a climb from a rank of 54 the year prior. Managing partner Gregory Jordan, 45, has been at the helm for the last four years. During his tenure, the firm has entered both the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets and merged with Britain’s 60-lawyer Warner & Cranston. Jordan maintains that the current legal industry merger mania is in its infancy and predicts that combinations will continue until there are 25 to 50 top international law firms representing the business of the world’s corporate giants. RSU is just one part of his efforts to see that Reed Smith is one of the firms left standing. FRESHMAN YEAR Reed Smith University’s development plan calls for five different schools: leadership, business development, technology, professional support and law. The October session at Wharton marked the first program of the leadership school, drawing about 30 of the firm’s managers — including practice group heads, firm administrators and program directors, such as Maria Bernier, head of the Women’s Initiative (a program to help women advance their careers within the firm). The schools have been developed through a partnership with Wharton’s executive education division, and all five schools are expected to start operating by January. However, Wharton professors will teach only in the leadership school; the instructors for the other schools will come primarily from the ranks of Reed Smith itself. Wharton will be providing some brain power and mentoring in the development of the other schools: the extent to which it will be involved is a decision for the Reed Smith partners who will be serving as deans for the various schools. As a practical matter, not all classes will be held in a classroom. RSU education will be presented in a variety of ways and settings, reports Mark Dembovsky, the firm’s chief strategic officer and RSU’s chief architect. For example, one component will be a “virtual university,” where firm staff can attend classes through videoconferences and “webinars.” Other media will include classes on CDs, that attorneys can use (or download) on a laptop, and watch during a long flight. BIRTH OF A UNIVERSITY According to Dembovsky, the top management of Reed Smith had been kicking around the idea of starting a leadership training program for some time. The ultimate decision to proceed, however, was spurred by several unrelated triggers, explains Michael Pollack, a corporate partner and the firm’s director of strategic planning:
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