In Issue 6 of Management Solutions, we discussed how firms can help lawyers set professional development goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited. This issue will discuss how lawyers can attain those goals by creating an action plan that maps out the path to success, keeps them on track, and measures their progress.
This issue of Management Solutions also looks at two aspects of training: recognizing when training is not the right solution, and a simple way to evaluate training effectiveness. This month's case study deals with the importance of identifying problems correctly in order to design effective solutions. Sometimes clients ask me to present a training program to address such problems as low morale or high attrition. In most cases, training is not the answer. To deal with these problems effectively, the firm has to first identify the underlying causes and then fashion a suitable remedy. Unless the fundamental issues are analyzed and understood correctly, "training solutions" have little positive effect, and the problem will persist.
We will also describe the way one law firm measures the effectiveness of its training programs by conducting a follow-up inquiry 3-6 months after a training program concludes.
I am trying something new in this issue: an informal survey. I would like to get your ideas and comments regarding a subject that many firms are thinking about and a few have put into practice. Should law firms have mentoring programs specifically for minority lawyers? If you have insights, experience or ideas that you would like to share in response to this question, please email your thoughts to me at IdaAbbott@aol.com. I will compile the results and report back to you in the next issue. Be assured that I will not identify any individual or firm in anything I write.
On July 9, I made presentations to the mentors and mentees who were inaugurating the new Columbus, Ohio, Bar Association Mentoring Program. This is a model that other bar associations might want to adopt. Details appear below.
My recent article, "Retaining Minorities and Women," appeared in the New York Law Journal on April 26, 2004. It is available to NYLJ subscribers at http://www.law.com/jsp/nylj/specials.jsp.
More and more law firms are asking lawyers to set goals as a means of promoting their professional development. Merely listing SMART goals is not enough; lawyers need to create written action plans that set down exactly how they will attain those goals. A written plan, with set time limits, commits the lawyer and fosters accountability. Unless the plan is in writing, it is too easy to forget what was intended or to avoid it completely.
A set of recommendations for firms that are interested in having lawyers complete development plans is available at www.idaabbott.com. It deals with two aspects of planning: the process of creating a plan, and the plan itself. The process includes setting guidelines so that lawyers understand what they should do and how to identify appropriate career and performance goals. It also includes an inventory for establishing the lawyer's current, or baseline, development status, and other tools for producing the plan.
The actual development plan is a relatively simple document that records only the final goals, how the goals will be attained (including the steps and resources needed and where they will come from), and a timetable. A template for a development plan is attached. Note, however, that this is only one possibility. The actual plan might be presented as a chart, an outline, or in some other format.
One firm that has implemented a well thought out approach to professional development planning for associates is Shaw Pittman LLP. They provide a package of three documents: a set of explanatory guidelines about how development plans fit into the firm's overall professional development program; a personal worksheet that is used to help associates identify their baseline and goals; and a template for recording the final plan. The personal worksheet, which no one but the associate sees, collects information about the lawyer's present status and experience to date; provides space for recording thoughts, aspirations and potential goals; and asks questions designed to inspire ideas about the individual's career. Associates then review and complete the "Associate Professional Development Plan" with their advisors. This plan records specific goals in five designated areas (substantive legal knowledge or practice experience; legal skills; business and professional skills; firm citizenship; and other professional development), then lists the steps, activities, and resources for obtaining those goals, and a timetable.
Employers with problems of low morale or poor workplace relationships often seek training programs to "cure" the problem. They believe that all they need to do is give people better skills so they can reduce conflict and work together more effectively. Many times, however, the problems cited by the employer are merely symptoms of more serious underlying problems which usually involve poor management practices.
A corporate law department asked me to conduct two teambuilding workshops, one for the lawyers and another for their secretaries. The factor that precipitated the call was complaints from internal clients about the inefficiency and low level of responsiveness in the law department. In reviewing their clients' complaints, the lawyers who called me had concluded that the problem was a lack of cooperation among the secretaries which made it hard for lawyers to get work done efficiently.
While investigating the situation in order to design the training sessions, I learned that the secretaries were not just uncooperative - they were hostile toward one another and with rare exceptions, refused to help each other, even in emergencies. I also learned that each secretary's advancement and compensation was tied completely and exclusively to the lawyer she worked for (all the secretaries were women). The secretary was promoted only if her boss was promoted. Under this scheme, a secretary's teamwork and cooperation with others in the law department were irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was her boss' performance, which made it an incentive to support her boss only.
In this kind of setting, training on teambuilding skills would be worthless. The underlying culture, including the promotion system, would work against all the fundamental principles of teamwork and collaboration. What was needed was courageous leadership willing to change the fundamental culture and establish better management practices.
It is important to evaluate training programs in order to ensure that the training is meeting learning objectives and having the desired impact on performance. Evaluation is also important to generate the data needed to set training priorities and improve the quality of future programs. The widely-used Kirkpatrick model of program evaluation provides a framework with 4 levels of evaluation:
The value of the assessment increases at each level - as does the difficulty of measurement. The most common means of program evaluation is a level 1 evaluation form that asks participants about their satisfaction with the program design and delivery. Many firms stop the evaluation process at level 1 because they believe that evaluations at levels 2 to 4 are too complicated or costly.
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati takes its evaluations beyond level 1, measuring the impact of training on behavior (level 3), with little difficulty or cost. After a period of time sufficient for participants to apply what they learned in a skills training program (usually three to four months after the program), the firm sends out a brief, 3-question email asking participants to recall what they learned in the program, report how they are using what they learned, and describe the impact the learning has had on their performance. In addition to obtaining data on how the program affected performance, this "lookback" evaluation reminds participants of the training program they attended and reinforces the lessons they learned. The collected data is used in four ways: (1) to decide whether to offer the program again and if so, whether it should be modified in any way; (2) to design other programs more effectively; (3) to report to senior management on the tangible benefits of training on performance; and (4) to provide quotes and ideas for marketing the program if it is offered again.
Many associations of women lawyers and minority lawyers have mentoring programs for their members. Associations of lawyers in substantive practice areas also occasionally have mentoring programs for particular purposes, such as enhancing leadership and attracting diverse members. But relatively few state or local bar associations have formal mentoring programs. Such programs can be especially valuable for inexperienced lawyers in small firms or solo practice where they feel isolated or have limited access to potential mentors.
The Columbus (Ohio) Bar Association is embarking on an ambitious mentoring program open to all lawyer members who feel they may benefit from mentoring. The purpose of the program is to enhance professionalism in the local legal community and to provide information, guidance and support in substantive law and general practice matters (e.g., office management, client development) for less experienced lawyers. The initial group of 140 mentees consists of lawyers with less than five years of experience in any type of practice. The 140 mentors are more experienced volunteer lawyers and also come from all fields of practice, including several local judges. Mentors and mentees are matched by the program coordinator on the basis of the mentees' needs and the mentors' experience, and are expected to meet once a month for a year. Training and resources, as well as social events, are being provided. In support of this program, the Columbus Bar Association has hired a lawyer part-time to serve as program coordinator.