Attracting top talent to your firm is only half the battle – and often the easier half. The tougher part is turning that raw potential into skilled and loyal revenue producers.
Talent Development Is No Accident
New associates are the future of your firm. Naturally, you want to hire the best and brightest. But the hard work begins once they’re on board.
Your new hires will need more than natural ability and a law degree. They will need to be oriented to private practice in general and your firm’s culture in particular. They’ll need training and support. Their performance will need to be tracked.
Firms that do these things will thrive. Firms that don’t will suffer the consequences of inferior work product, unhappy clients and a higher risk of malpractice.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking that trial by fire will produce blue-chip partners. What it is more likely to result are avoidable errors and malpractice claims.
Alta Pro Practice Pointers
- Mentoring starts on day one. Some firms have formal mentoring programs that pair new hires with seasoned partners. Mentors meet regularly with their mentees – perhaps off-site and after hours – to pass on knowledge, offer personal support and address specific concerns. Other firms do it in a less formal manner. Either way, new lawyers have someone to go to. This is important because they may otherwise be reluctant to ask for help. They might think asking questions or admitting confusion about a case will be perceived as weaknesses that will hurt their chances of making partner.
- Use client-focused incentives. Smart firms incentivize young lawyers to deliver great client service and achieve successful outcomes, not rack up billable hours. Does your firm discourage lawyers – perhaps subtly and implicitly – from resolving cases too quickly and leaving billable hours on the table? If so, expect shoddy lawyering and unnecessary errors.
- Establish clear expectations up front. Let your new lawyers know what is expected of them. Explain how their performance will be measured. Review their cases periodically and guide them in making adjustments as needed. Solicit feedback from their clients.
- Provide good training. Guide associates on the basics of client service, business development and ethics. This can be both formal (orientation programs, scheduled sessions) and informal (water-cooler conversations). A potential motherlode: your firm’s experienced lawyers. Tap into their knowledge and expertise.
- Audit their cases. Are files properly documented? Is there regular client communication? You’ll never be able to judge the quality of their work if you don’t review their files and discuss what you find. Let them know this isn’t punitive. It’s meant to help them become better lawyers.
- Have a process for smooth transitions out of the firm. Not all lawyers work out. Expect attrition along the partnership path. When an associate does leave the firm – whether by your choice or theirs – try to make the departure amicable. If that isn’t feasible, at least make it professional. The departing lawyer knows a lot about your firm and lawyers. Punishing them for leaving could hurt you later. A former associate with a chip on their shoulder may find themselves being deposed in a malpractice lawsuit against your firm. Their testimony is an opportunity for revenge. Avoid that scenario by making separations as friendly as possible.
The Bottom Line: Congratulations! You’ve hired a potential star. Keep their light shining bright for years to come by giving them solid guidance, training and support.
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