Developing Your Future Leaders: Draw from Your Own Talent

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Associates spend most of their time developing core legal skills, e.g., research, writing and analysis. This work is essential to development of legal expertise, but such expertise alone isn’t sufficient to prepare an associate to become partner. For an associate to have true partnership potential, he or she must couple mastery of a practice area with other critical skills, such as developing a business sense, cultivating clients, thinking strategically, and demonstrating leadership and managerial abilities.

Every law firm wants its associates to grow into successful partners. How does a firm bridge the gap between the skills associates use and the qualities partners need? One answer lies in developing and implementing formal training programs. As discussed below, a more obvious and impactful — but sometimes overlooked — answer lies in the quality of partner-associate relationships.

Don’t Overlook the Benefit of Partner-Driven Teaching

Associates prize the chance to learn critical skills from partners and counsel. Four examples come to mind:

  • Day-to-day work. Associates want to learn from their partners and counsel, not only to build their practice area expertise but also to glean invaluable leadership, management and business development skills by observing more senior lawyers in action.
  • Storytelling. Associates consistently share that the most powerful way they can learn the tangible components of business-building, for example, is by hearing the stories their partners and counsel share. Talks, whether formal or not, in which supervisors describe their experiences, processes, pitfalls and triumphs produce lasting takeaways for associates.
  • Partner-led training. Associates value when partners and counsel provide substantive overviews and training sessions on areas in which they have expertise, such as industry updates and shifting legal precedent. Even brief and informal training sessions, such as those conducted during practice group meetings or working lunches in the office, can yield significant benefits.
  • Context-sharing. Associates love to hear from their supervisors how a given matter fits within the big picture. Partners and counsel are well positioned to set the stage by explaining to team members the larger context in which their discreet task or assignment arises. When partners take time to impart their knowledge of the key players, the major challenges, the client’s sensitivities — such insights not only draw the significance of an immediate matter into clearer focus, but broaden associates’ thinking beyond the billable hour to the larger issues driving a project.

Indeed, associates cite consistent investment from partners and counsel as critical to their success in cultivating the skills required to become future law firm leaders. However, in spite of the clear benefits of partner-driven teaching, it remains easy to overlook and sometimes difficult to inculcate as a firm-wide practice and value. Through our work, we help support firms implementing such relationship-based talent development models as a best practice.