Issue 11, Summer 2005



Leadership Development Initiative for New Partners

Case Study: Coaching a New Professional Development Director

Build on Summer Mentoring Success to Improve Recruitment and Retention

Diversity Developments

Recently Published Studies

Speaking Engagements

"Mentoring is hot!" That's what I was told recently by a professional development director. One indication of how right she was is that firms are starting to use mentoring techniques not just for associates but for partners and staff as well. This issue of Management Solutions will look at one innovative leadership development program for new partners at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP that incorporates mentoring as one of its key elements.

Executive coaching is also gaining popularity in law firms. Like mentoring, coaching focuses on helping someone set and work toward professional goals. Coaching helps people perform their jobs better. It is often an integral part of mentoring, but mentoring is broader in scope and does not necessarily focus on particular outcomes. This distinction, however, is not as important as the common value both provide: mentoring and coaching offer personal attention and support for professional development. Our case study describes how I coached a law firm partner in his new role as his firm's first full-time professional development director.

This issue also presents a tip for extending the benefits of summer mentoring programs, three interesting developments in the area of diversity, four recently published studies that offer significant insights into lawyers' career satisfaction, and some of my upcoming speaking engagements.

 Leadership Development Initiative for New Partners

Law is a demanding and often lonely business. One of the reasons that mentoring programs have become so popular for associates is that firms recognize how overwhelmed and isolated new lawyers can feel. By assigning mentors, firms ensure that at least one lawyer in the firm is looking out for each associate, at least for the duration of the program.

When associates become partners, that feeling of overwork and isolation often returns. Firms generally assume that lawyers who have achieved partnership are fully prepared to assume leadership roles and responsibilities. As one senior partner said to me, "No one held my hand when I became a partner. I learned what I needed as I went along." While that gradual approach may still work in some firms, most firms can't wait that long to produce successful new leaders. In today's law practice, leadership skills are complex, the learning curve is steep, and the environment is treacherous. To help lawyers adjust to the demands that partnership brings, firms are creating leadership development initiatives tailored to new partners.

Some firms solely offer training programs that teach effective management and leadership skills. Other firms provide individualized attention and support in addition to training classes. This is the approach taken by Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP. The firm has launched a New Partner Development Program for lawyers in their first five years of partnership. The program has four components for these partners:

  1. Orientation to partnership, including review of the five key partnership roles of manager, business originator, producer, team builder and firm citizen.
  2. Annual personalized development plan. The plan is designed to optimize each partner's professional growth and to support his or her practice group's business plan and long-term strategy. The planning process begins with a self-assessment, upward reviews completed by associates, and dialogue with practice group leaders and mentors. The result is a personalized professional development plan that includes specific objectives, linked to the practice group's business plan, for each of the five key partnership roles.
  3. Formal training and networking. The firm provides training to enhance the competencies required by practice areas and each of the key partnership roles, plus networking opportunities to promote relationship-building among the newer partners.
  4. Mentoring by more experienced partners. Mentors regularly meet with new partners to offer ongoing support for accomplishing specific objectives, determine progress, provide feedback and advice, and generally help in the transition to partnership and contribution to the practice group.

This last component is an important innovation because mentoring is an ideal way to help lawyers transition to new leadership roles. Corporations have used formal mentoring in executive leadership initiatives for decades, but it is a new concept in law firms. A mentor who serves as a confidant, sounding board, and trusted advisor provides the kind of supportive ongoing interaction that secures success. After all, setting development goals is the easy part; achieving those goals - while practicing law and adjusting to partnership responsibilities - is much harder. Research on leadership development programs has shown that ongoing interaction and follow-up with colleagues is a critical factor in becoming an effective leader. New leaders need to try out what they learn and discuss the experience with someone they trust and respect. They need feedback, advice, and encouragement along the way. Mentors provide this personal support.

 Case Study: Coaching a New Professional Development Director

One of the exciting trends in law firm management is the steady growth of executive level professional development director positions. Today, most large law firms and many mid-sized firms have full-time professionals in charge of lawyers' learning and development. Considering that few firms had such positions until recently, job descriptions and qualifications are still evolving.

Most executive level professional development directors are coming from two principal areas. One group is comprised of individuals with expertise in areas such as training, organization development, and human resources, who are coming from corporations and consulting firms. The other group consists of lawyers making a career change out of law practice and into professional development. The first group has to learn how to apply their expertise to the law firm culture and work environment. But the transition is not easy for the second group, either. Even experienced lawyers who have been with the firm for years face challenges when they leave practice to become head of professional development.

Steve's experience illustrates the point. Steve introduced himself to me at a conference on diversity and said he needed advice. He had recently become the Director of Professional Development in his 500-lawyer firm. The firm had many training and development programs and decided to bring them all together under one director for the first time. Steve seemed to be the natural candidate for this position. As a non-equity partner in his firm, Steve had organized and taught numerous training programs for lawyers; chaired the hiring committee for three years; was considered an excellent teacher and mentor; and frequently counseled associates about their careers. When the new position was announced, Steve sought the job and the firm agreed.

Within a very short time, however, Steve began to feel overwhelmed. He asked for my help in several areas. These are three of the problems he presented:

  • Lack of clarity about his responsibilities for recruiting. The Recruiting Manager, who had wanted the Professional Development Director job, quit just as recruiting season was getting under way. The firm asked Steve to assume hands-on responsibility for recruiting temporarily, "at least until we can replace" the person who left. At first, the firm had told Steve he would "oversee" recruiting but not have "hands-on" responsibility. Now, recruiting was taking up much more of his time than he had anticipated or wanted.
  • Committee confusion. The firm's training and development activities were being run by a host of different committees. Steve was not sure which committees should continue their work, which ones he should take responsibility for, and which ones should be dropped or reconfigured.
  • Doubts about the firm's commitment to diversity. When Steve accepted this position, the Chair of the firm had told him that diversity would be a priority, and that the firm wanted to institute an aggressive diversity initiative. Steve proposed a plan for increasing diversity but was having a hard time getting partners to support it. Partners said they were too busy to get involved and that it was now Steve's responsibility.

Our coaching sessions were conducted by telephone. We began with a two-hour call in which Steve lay out the problems he was grappling with. At first, we spoke every two weeks for about an hour, then every 4-6 weeks. In our first few sessions, I helped Steve organize his problems into categories; identify the immediate and long-term issues he wanted to address and the desired outcomes for each issue; and set priorities. Then together we worked out some strategies and plans for achieving those outcomes.

With respect to the three problems noted above, Steve found ways to:

  • Clarify - and reach a common understanding with firm leadership about - his authority, responsibilities, and the scope of his job, including his responsibility for recruiting;
  • Expedite hiring of a new Recruiting Manager;
  • Develop a strategy to help Steve assess which committees were needed and how they should be organized;
  • Approach diversity in a fresh way that began with getting buy-in from all members of the firm (rather than trying to impose his plan); and
  • Build alliances throughout the firm to generate active support for professional development and for his role as director.

As Steve moved forward, we monitored his progress, adjusted tactics to address new situations, and created plans for remaining priorities. I coached Steve for more than a year. By then he had accomplished most of the goals he had set and was happy in his job. He still calls occasionally if the need arises.

 Build on Summer Mentoring Success to Improve Recruitment and Retention

Most law firms have mentoring programs for their summer associates. Summer mentoring programs frequently result in lasting mentoring relationships between summer associates and the mentors who were assigned to them. These relationships are often instrumental in convincing summer associates to accept the firm's offer for a permanent position. But too often, the momentum created over the summer is lost when students return to school and lawyers rely on the hiring committee for follow-up. In addition, when former summer associates arrive at the firm as new associates, firms do not make the most of these pre-existing relationships. This is a missed opportunity to strengthen the kind of personal connections that increase retention.

A few simple steps can help firms build on the positive relationships created by summer mentoring programs to improve recruiting and retention efforts:

  • Assigned mentors (and any other lawyer with whom the summer associate formed a strong relationship) should stay in touch with the summer associate when law school resumes. Mentors should become active participants in the follow-up process through frequent phone calls, emails, and even getting together, if convenient.
  • Summer mentors should be encouraged to reach out to and reconnect with all new associates with whom they previously worked during summer programs.
  • Summer associates who join the firm as new associates should be asked if they would like to be paired with their summer mentors in the firm's new associate mentoring program. It is, of course, important for the new associate to meet other lawyers and possibly have other assigned mentors. But where a good relationship already exists, being matched with that person can strengthen the new associate's feeling of comfort and connection to the firm.
  • Remind all mentors in the summer program to afford new associates the same patience, care, and attention they gave to summer associates. Typically, mentors are more forgiving toward summer associates because they are still students. Mentors expect them to be smart and responsive, but not necessarily to get everything right the first time. In fact, mentors frequently take time to teach, explain, and closely supervise summer associates. Help mentors see that it is in their and the firm's best interests to continue this practice throughout the year.
  • During the summer, firms sponsor activities that allow - indeed, encourage - mentors and summer associates to get to know each other both through work and in social activities. While the activities may be less lavish or frequent, the principle should still apply year-round: firms should make it as easy as possible for mentors and associates to get to know each other in relaxed social settings.
  • Summer programs typically have mechanisms in place for regular review and feedback on summer associates' work. The programs require mentors to pay attention to the quality of summer associates' work and the nature of their overall work experience. No less should be expected for new associates, since the firm has an even greater interest in their successful performance.


 Diversity Developments

The legal profession continues to grapple with the need to become more diverse. In some cities, law firms are joining together in a legal community effort to promote diversity. Firms in Washington, DC and Atlanta are using two different approaches to accomplish this purpose.

  • The DC Minority Attorney Networking Series provides opportunities for lawyers of color to expand their professional networks, focus on professional development, and build alliances and relationships with other lawyers in the DC area. The first two events featured Deborah Lee, President and COO of BET Entertainment, and Judge Ricardo Urbina from the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Originally started by Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP and Arnold & Porter LLP, 26 additional firms have since joined as series co-sponsors. The eagerness for such an endeavor became immediately apparent when the first program in the series was oversubscribed (500 people) and had to be moved from its original law office site to a hotel. The next program will be in September. For information, contact Caren Stacy at
  • The Atlanta Large Law Firm Diversity Alliance is embarking on a major educational initiative to improve diversity efforts in law firms through better management. Eleven large law firms have partnered with the American Institute for Managing Diversity to develop a course for law firm partners who have responsibility for managing people and departments in their firms. The program, "Diversity Management Series for Law Firm Practice Leaders," is designed to give participants "a greater awareness of and capability in managing diversity." The program will take place in three full-day sessions over a three month period beginning in September. More information is available at


 Recent Published Studies

Is lawyer satisfaction on the rise? It appears to be. A recent poll of California lawyers determined that 86% are content with what they do for a living and only 14% said they would choose a different career (California Lawyer, July 2005). A comprehensive study of the Chicago bar (described below) found almost identical results. Below are four studies that analyze lawyer and workforce satisfaction, and the various factors that contribute to it.

1. After the JD, NALP Foundation, ( This is the first part of a 10-year longitudinal study of more than 5,000 law firm graduates from the class of 2000. The report looks at their career patterns and levels of job satisfaction after three years in practice. It measures 16 aspects of satisfaction and breaks down its findings by race, gender and ethnicity. At this early stage in their careers, 80% of lawyers report relatively high job satisfaction. However, those with the highest incomes – who tend to work in large private law firms – also have the highest levels of dissatisfaction. Two future reports will present findings after 6 and 10 years.

2. Generation & Gender in the Workplace, a report issued by the Families and Work Institute (FWI) and the American Business Collaboration ( The FWI has been collecting data about the workforce for more than 25 years and is able to identify significant generational trends and changes. One of the report's key findings is that members of Gen-X and Gen-Y are less "work-centric" than previous generations and place equal or greater priority on family. While they work extremely hard, these men and women pare down their career ambitions rather than make the tradeoffs necessary to advance into jobs with greater responsibilities.

3. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Building the Business Case for Flexibility, Catalyst. ( execsummary3 14 05.pdf): This study, which was sponsored by 10 leading Canadian firms, surveyed more than 1,400 lawyers across Canada. It examines the importance of a positive work-life culture in retaining lawyers and reducing the costs of attrition - which the study determined to be an average of $315,000 per associate departure. Among the significant conclusions of this study is that in a market where compensation and advancement opportunities only vary marginally, firms that offer associates more control over their time, work and personal lives are more likely to retain them.

4. John P. Heinz, Robert L. Nelson, Rebecca L. Sandefur, and Edward O. Laumann, Urban Lawyers: The New Social Structure of the Bar (University of Chicago Press, Chicago) 2005. In 1975, Heinz and Laumann authored an in-depth study of lawyers in Chicago. They have expanded their research to explore the changes that occurred in the same legal community in 1995, two decades later. While the book does not analyze the state of the profession in 2005, it examines the forces and trends that have brought us to the present. By carefully studying the recent past, it provides a valuable reference for anyone - especially those in large urban firms - interested in future of the legal profession.

 My Upcoming Speaking Engagements:

July 22, 2005 - Association of Legal Administrators, Denver, CO: "Hold On! Retaining Your Best Professional Talent"

August 25, 2005 - The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, Columbus, OH, initiation of "Mentoring and More @ Moritz," a new mentoring program for law school students.

September 15, 2005 - The Law Firm HR Roundtable, San Francisco, CA, "Managing and Measuring the Performance and Productivity of Support Staff"

October 2, 2005 - Annual Legal Retreat of the Associated General Contractors of California Legal Advisory Committee, Carmel Valley, CA, on increasing the presence of women in construction law practice.


©2005 Ida Abbott Consulting