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January 25, 2024

Early Bird Gets the Worm: How Am Law 100 Firms have Integrated Substantive Training for Associates Prior to their Arrival

In Big Law, integrating newly hired associates is a significant undertaking. This process is not just about familiarizing associates with the firm’s culture and practices but also about ensuring they quickly acclimatize to various aspects of the firm, including their office, class, practice group, and client team. A key component of integration is substantive training, which typically starts after the associates arrive at the firm and continues for the first few years on the job.

Knowing that the sooner they can acclimatize their new associates, the better, a few innovative Am Law firms wanted to get ahead of the curve with substantive training. Keep reading our case study to learn how these firms have innovatively collaborated with AltaClaro to empower their first-year associates to accelerate the learning curve on substantive skills before their arrival, establishing a new benchmark in integrating their associates.


Importance of an Early Start to Associate Integration

It’s no surprise that most leading law firms have a reputation for having a strong associate integration program. The faster associates are integrated into the firm and feel a part of the firm’s culture and community, the better it is for everyone. Successful firms also make training junior associates a priority and it’s important that the firms demonstrate they truly value the development of their associates as early as possible.

Leading firms typically have an early integration program that begins right at law school graduation, prior to the associates’ first day at the firm, generally consisting of the following components:

  • Bar Preparation and Application Support: Assisting graduates in navigating the bar exam and application processes. 
  • Financial Planning: Providing guidance on financial management and investment, including 401(k) plans.
  • Social and Networking Events: Creating opportunities for new associates to build connections with colleagues and foster a sense of community within the firm.
  • Firm Integration Topics: Running focused discussions to familiarize associates with the firm's practices and expectations. 
  • Routine Check-in Meetings: Hosting regular Zoom meetings to provide continuous support and orientation information. This is especially beneficial for those associates who were not a part of the firm’s summer associate experience, allowing individuals to meet and connect with their peers and teammates before Day One.


Incorporating Substantive Training into Early Integration

Substantive training forms a pivotal component of any leading firm’s approach to integrating new associates, as it ensures that associates are well equipped with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to contribute to the firm effectively and efficiently. 

While substantive training typically starts after the associates arrive at the firm, this year, a few Am Law 100 firms added it as a new component to their early integration program.

To execute this initiative, the firms sought out AltaClaro, a leader in experiential legal education. The firms wanted to be sure that the program was effective and it wasn't just about putting associates in front of videos. 

What was appealing to the firms about AltaClaro was that all of AltaClaro’s courses ran associates through mock deals/simulation assignments and gave associates feedback on their simulated work product. 


AltaClaro’s Learn-Do-Review Methodology

Serving the Am Law 200 since 2019, AltaClaro offers virtual, experiential learning courses that are taught by practitioners, for practitioners. AltaClaro’s courses use a self-paced e-learning curriculum supplemented by live virtual sessions led by their own highly vetted faculty. Assignments consist of working on mock transactions using real-world client scenarios and deal documents, all of which are reviewed and “assessed” by experienced practitioners, who then provide interactive feedback to participants. AltaClaro offers over 40 courses that cut across seven practice areas, including Corporate, M&A, Finance, Real Estate, IP/Technology transactions, Capital Markets, and Startup/Venture. 

Each AltaClaro course is offered through its online/cloud portal and requires a 4-hour commitment, which can be spread out over any period of time, depending on the firm’s preference. For example, a course can run over a period of two weeks or even one day. In either case, AltaClaro’s signature Learn-Do-Review methodology is deployed, as follows:

  • Lesson Videos + Self-assessments (1hr): Associates complete on-demand bite-sized videos and self-assessments. Videos are broken out into 10-minute digestible segments, with self-assessments in between.
  • Simulation Assignment (2hr): Associates complete a self-paced simulation assignment/mock transaction. Associates are given a hypothetical client matter to complete using real-world scenarios and documents.
  • Live Group Review Session (1hr): Associates participate in a live group review session with a vetted instructor (via videoconferencing) to review the simulation assignment/mock transaction, ask questions, and dive deeper on the issues and tasks presented by the assignment. 

Live sessions are conducted in small cohorts of no more than 10 associates to allow instructors to review submissions and prepare for a tailored discussion, and to create an optimal environment for interaction and learning.


Designing the Deployment Strategy

One firm decided to target all of their incoming junior associates, deploying a single course that ran over a period of two weeks. They selected AltaClaro’s Essentials of Contract Drafting & Negotiation, a fundamental subject which is relevant for all associates, regardless of whether they are in transactional or litigation practice groups.

Another firm targeted all of their transactional associates and deployed a series of five courses in corporate and M&A transactions that ran in a bootcamp fashion with  one class per day over a period of one week. They selected the following courses:

  1. Essentials of Contract Drafting & Negotiation
  2. Forming Corporations & Other Entities
  3. Transactional Due Diligence & Disclosure Schedules
  4. M&A Deal Process
  5. Drafting & Negotiating Letters of Intent

Although the programs were purely optional for the associates, the firms and AltaClaro witnessed an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. Almost all incoming associates signed up rapidly, filling the available seats completely. 


Assessing AltaClaro’s Impact and Reception

Just as these firms made a commitment to their associates, so too did the associates make a commitment to the training programs with enthusiasm and appreciation. With a very high engagement and completion rate, 92% of the participants in these programs rated the courses as “extremely/very helpful” and the programs achieved an impressive Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 60, indicating a high likelihood of participants recommending the program to others. With experiential learning at the forefront, the firm’s associates not only gained a comprehensive understanding of the fundamental subject but also the confidence to apply these skills in real-world scenarios. 

The associates also provided valuable insights and feedback from the program, highlighting the impact of AltaClaro’s Learn-Do-Review methodology. Associates appreciated the course structure and content. One shared, “The videos were very informative and splitting them into short sections made it easier to retain information.” Another added how easy it was to integrate the training: “I currently have a busy schedule, and I was able to fit the entire course into my week. The course was very digestible.”

The associates also emphasized how the courses gave them much needed practical experience. One associate remarked, “I thought that the actual exercise provided great first-hand practice for what an associate will face in a real setting." Another associate acknowledged the practicality of the course, commenting on AltaClaro’s contracts course, “It gave me the basic concepts of key contract provisions in the real world. If I were to be tasked with drafting a contract, I would have some idea of what to look for and where to start.” 

On top of commenting how much more prepared they were, the associates praised their instructors and the live review sessions. An associate shared, “[The instructors] laid out the agenda at the beginning of the meeting so we knew what to expect. I could tell they were extremely prepared for the sessions.” The live review sessions were effective in allowing associates to delve deeper into the complexities of the materials, with one stating, “The sessions were interactive and all the questions I had going into the session were addressed.”


Leveraging AltaClaro’s Data Driven Insights

AltaClaro’s Data Insights serves as a cornerstone for the training program’s success by tracking associate engagement, feedback, and performance. Associates quickly get invested because the live review sessions create powerful, safe spaces to learn. Instructors review submitted assignments and provide feedback to the group, identifying their opportunities and strengths. No grades are given and associates have the opportunity to take their time, ask questions, make mistakes, and get feedback on their simulated work products. 

Instructors give feedback on the following criteria: 

  1. Has the associate followed the specific instructions in the assignment and applied the correct concept and adapted it for the given situation?
  2. Has the associate identified all legal and practical issues in a given hypothetical?
  3. Did the associate have a strong understanding of the material and devised a unique practical (legal) solution that can be used to solve the given problem?
  4. Did the associate use best practices to solve the problems presented by the fact patterns (best drafting techniques, approach, etc.)?

These evaluations not only help associates improve but also provide early indicators for those who might need extra support in transitioning from academic settings to real-world legal practice. 


Continued Partnership with AltaClaro

The firms’ pioneering collaboration with AltaClaro set a new benchmark in the integration of first-year associates in Big Law. It represents a greater shift towards more practical, hands-on training that prepares new lawyers to hit the ground running and excel in their careers through professional development. As these firms continue to invest in its associates and AltaClaro continues to innovate in legal education, this partnership is poised to continue setting new standards for excellence in professional development. 


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