In the climate of financial uncertainty among many of the country’s largest law firms, their most junior attorneys are more satisfied than they have been in years.

That satisfaction, measured by The American Lawyer through its Summer Associates and Midlevel Associates satisfaction surveys, is most palpable at firms that are investing in training over entertaining.

The American Lawyer reported that a vocal minority of the summer associates wished their firms would have focused less on dinners out or sporting events and put a greater emphasis on work time. In the Midlevel Associates survey, questions about how clearly firms communicate what it takes to make partner, training and firms’ openness about finances showed big year-to-year gains, the magazine reported.

Cozen O’Connor was at or near the top of both surveys — something not uncommon for the firm in recent years. Its 12 summer associates in 2012 gave it a score of 4.981 out of 5, giving the firm a first-place ranking nationally in the Summer Associates survey. It had been ranked 26th last year and fourth in 2010. The firm was ranked fifth nationally on the Midlevel Associates survey, down two spots from its third-place ranking last year. It earned a score of 4.446 from its midlevels this year.

The firm credits its success on these surveys to the time they spend developing their more junior attorneys.

Vincent McGuinness Jr., managing partner of Cozen O’Connor, said the firm knew it needed a comprehensive professional development program that wasn’t just training because lawyers have three years of training in law school. Younger attorneys, from summer associates through senior associates, need to get “lawyering” skills, McGuinness said. For a lawyer from his generation, that was easier to do.

“Thirty years later, I have a personal philosophy that while technology has been fabulous for the law, it doesn’t create the experiences lawyers need to get the experience of being a lawyer,” McGuinness said. “Lawyers have to … think and engage like a lawyer. That’s what the keystone of our program is.”

McGuinness recognizes the industry is in the midst of a rough economy, but said investing the time and resources into professionally developing young lawyers is even more crucial in this climate because there is nothing worse than spending the time and money to recruit top talent only to see them walk out the door for greener pastures.

Cozen O’Connor member Hayes Hunt was charged with developing the firm’s training programs and keeping firm leadership informed and involved. Hunt said his goal was to figure out how to implement real-world training programs to supplement the work clients would no longer pay for. The key, Hunt said, is that the programs have complete buy-in from the firm’s senior leaders who also teach the courses or evaluate associates’ performances.

Last week, Cozen O’Connor brought all of its associates who graduated between 2002 and 2012 to the Philadelphia office to learn about the firm, its leadership and how to develop their own business.

The firm also runs the Cozen O’Connor Trial Academy, which takes young lawyers to University of Pennsylvania Law School for a week to do mock, simulated cases. They are then critiqued by Cozen O’Connor leaders and outside law professors on various aspects of their litigation performance.

CO24, conducted in May, was a way to bring the firm’s transactional associates into the mix. Cozen O’Connor has the young lawyers work on a stock purchase agreement, with the firm’s senior business lawyers serving as “faculty.” The associates work on amending the agreement and negotiating its terms. Litigation associates are there from the start to see how the deal was crafted and are then presented with a complaint and litigation that hypothetically might have stemmed from the deal.

CODEP is another program Cozen O’Connor created to teach deposition skills in a real-world format. Hunt said summer associates partake in these programs or aspects of them are adapted for summers specifically.

The firm has also married its pro bono committee with professional development work. In the last year, eight of the firm’s associates were able to get their first jury trial and litigation experience through Cozen O’Connor’s involvement with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s Prisoner Civil Rights Panel. Each of the trial teams is mentored by a senior lawyer at the firm.

“My view is that younger lawyers today really want this,” McGuinness said. “A summer program with a lot of [entertaining] is great. I call that a summer associates program of the 1980s. They also are going to law school and realize the industry has changed and there are challenges. They want to have professional development and skilled training in a different type of format.” •