In October 2022, AltaClaro, an industry-leading provider of online experiential learning courses for lawyers, partnered with SEO, a non-profit organization known for supplemental education and career support to young people from underserved communities, to launch the Legal Practice Accelerator (LPA). The LPA, an innovative five-day boot camp, was meticulously designed to bridge the gap between academic legal education and practical law practice, priming first-year associates for corporate transactional work at major law firms.
The LPA is one of three key components of an innovative professional/leadership development program recently developed by SEO called SEO Law Advance. This program focuses on disrupting the systemic challenges experienced by historically excluded attorneys in Big Law at crucial points in their careers. SEO Law Advance’s mission and purpose are centered on the retention, advancement, promotion and leadership development of Black, Hispanic/Latinx, API and LGBTQ+ attorneys.
The LPA was piloted with 60 incoming corporate associates at a top ranking Am Law 20 law firm in fall of 2022. At the conclusion of the LPA and nine months after, feedback was collected from the associates who had participated in the program. Based on the data, the program proved to be a success in helping associates hit the ground running their first year at the firm. Below is a case study examining how the law firm and SEO leveraged AltaClaro’s experiential learning methodology to help their new diverse associates gain the practical skills and confidence needed to succeed.
The Challenges for Diverse Law Associates
The SEO Law Advance initiative aims to promote mentorship, coaching, and education among attorneys of color and those identifying as LGBTQ+ within major law firms. This initiative is timely as the 2022 Report on Diversity in Law Firms by the National Association of Legal Professionals reveals the urgent need for more progress. Even though law firms have made strides in fostering diversity at the associate ranks, the report underscores that policies, practices, and procedures can result in inequities. In particular, access to training opportunities continues to be on top of the priority list.
Recent studies and articles continue to shed further light on how attorneys with diverse backgrounds face disproportionate access to essential career-enhancing resources, such as mentorship, meaningful assignments, regular feedback, and promotional opportunities. Advanced skills training often links to increasingly challenging work, amplifying the disadvantage for those with less access to these opportunities due to unconscious bias. The LPA tackles this head on by providing an immersive training program to help associates with diverse backgrounds be more confident raising their hand for assignments, asking better questions, and performing better and faster as a corporate lawyer.
The Legal Practice Accelerator: A Five-Day Bootcamp Powered by AltaClaro
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.
AltaClaro designed a five-day boot camp for the LPA by leveraging a combination of its existing experiential courses for newly minted corporate transactional lawyers. The courses are designed to bridge the gap between academic legal education and practical law practice, priming first-year associates for transactional work at major law firms. The boot camp led associates through five Master Classes, at an intensive pace of one class per day:
- Essentials of Contract Drafting
- Forming Corporations & Other Entities
- Transactional Due Diligence & Disclosure Schedules
- M&A Deal Process
- Drafting & Negotiating Letters of Intent
Each class is offered through AltaClaro’s online/cloud portal and requires a 4-hour commitment spread throughout the day, as follows:
- Lesson Videos + Self-assessments (9am-10am) - Complete on-demand bite-sized videos and self-assessments. Videos are broken out into 10 minute digestible segments.
- Simulation Assignment (10am-12:30pm) - Complete 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 (4pm-5pm) - Participate in a live group review session with an 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.
Leveraging AltaClaro’s Experiential Learning Methodology to Accelerate Practice-Readiness
All courses offered by AltaClaro are based AltaClaro’s three-pillar experiential learning methodology – Learn, Do, and Review.
Learn: This stage involves comprehensive coverage of various legal topics that places a particular emphasis on understanding principles and concepts, all facilitated through digestible video lectures and quizzes. The quizzes and self-assessments are designed to ensure that the participants are actively engaged in the learning and confirming their understanding of the concepts each step of the way.
Do: The next stage is all about “doing” and applying the knowledge from the videos to real world assignments. This stage puts into practice the key principles learned, fostering synthesis, prioritization, and drafting skills through real-world simulation exercises, which are inherently designed to be imperfect in substance and form, thus encouraging critical thinking. In short, the assignments are puzzles, and similar to the real world, there may be missing client facts that participants need to identify, as well as business issues, loopholes, gray areas, and practical considerations. The goal is to get their hands dirty making informed decisions and marking up documents as if they are preparing a work product for a client or partner. Upon completion, participants upload their assignments to the platform for review by AltaClaro’s highly vetted instructors prior to the next stage.
Review: AltaClaro’s instructors will review the assignment submissions, assess what participants missed, and prepare for a tailored live review session. During the session, the instructor will go over the assignment, answer questions, and dive into the whys and hows behind the tasks presented by the assignment. In this stage, the goal is for participants to focus on reflection and deeper understanding. The assignments will contain lots of gray areas, so there will be plenty of opportunities to discuss and explore the various possible outcomes during the sessions. These sessions steer clear of traditional lecture formats and instead focus on participant performance, taking into account their various levels of understanding and backgrounds.
Layering the Firm’s Magic and SEO’s Specialty on Top
As a follow-up to the foundational knowledge gained from the LPA coursework, SEO and the law firm integrated special sessions throughout the program. These were opportunities for participants to meet with diverse corporate partners to learn about their personal stories, the “the firm’s way” of corporate practice, and how to achieve success as a corporate lawyer at the firm.
In addition, leveraging SEO’s specialty of building meaningful professional relationships, all participants were inducted into the first SEO Legal Practice Accelerator Network. This network aims at getting participants a head start on building connections with people of color and LGBTQ+ attorneys across all of the firm’s offices.
The Effectiveness of the Legal Practice Accelerator
At the conclusion of the program, participants were asked how likely they would recommend the program to their colleagues on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being “extremely likely.” Participants rated it an average of 9.1/10, leading to a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 62.5, higher than Harvard, Apple, and Google. Nine months after the program, the associates were surveyed again and they continued to rate the program highly, further highlighting the program’s impact on helping them hit the ground running. 99% of the participants agreed that the program would help an attorney with limited corporate practice experience prepare to work on real matters, deals, and transactions.
The associates lauded the real-life deal exposure, engaging materials, and the practical application of their education in a low-stakes environment. A firm leader commented on how the program, powered by AltaClaro, fundamentally shifted how they approach training for diverse associates: “AltaClaro’s targeted skills training gives associates more access to success which breaks down barriers. For associates with diverse backgrounds, this can disrupt confirmation bias. Offering this opportunity to our diverse associates has bolstered our DEI-related recruiting and retention efforts. It is a clear demonstration of our commitment to nurturing a diverse and inclusive work environment."
One associate even shared how the real-world simulation exercises and learning materials continued to provide value, sharing that she “frequently returned to the materials discussed during the program throughout the year.”
Another associate commented on how effective the program was at getting them practice-ready and filling in the knowledge gaps from law school: “Law school does not do a great job at preparing someone to practice corporate law. This program was extremely helpful in providing context and a real life opportunity to practice in a low stakes environment.” And yet another associate shared how the AltaClaro learning methodology gave her confidence to manage an M&A deal: “The materials along with the live review sessions helped me gain exposure to a real life deal without the actual pressure of delivering the product to a client.”
Another associate similarly praised the learning methodology. She shared, “The best part about the course was the assignments. It really got us thinking about how the deal works, the factors that influence the steps taken and the discussion on the assignment for every class also gave us the exposure into how others approached the same problem with a different methodology.”
The Future of SEO the LPA, and AltaClaro
Based on the successful implementation of the LPA and positive feedback from associates, the firm, SEO, and AltaClaro plan to continue offering the program. This Fall, all 100 diverse incoming associates at the firm, graduates from top law schools, will be offered the opportunity to go through the LPA before they start work.
SEO, buoyed by the success of this initiative, has set its sights higher. Partnering exclusively with AltaClaro, SEO plans to extend this program across all of its AmLaw 50 partner firms. Daree Lewis, the Director of SEO's Leadership Institute, commented, “Our partnership with AltaClaro is just getting started. Together, we can tackle one of the key ingredients that’s missing for law students and law firm associates from diverse backgrounds – access to scalable experiential training designed to bolster associate success inside major law firms. Giving associates exposure to key legal concepts plus the opportunity to apply their knowledge to real-world assignments with meaningful feedback, all in a low stakes environment, is a game changer. The LPA, powered by AltaClaro, has set a new benchmark for diversity and inclusion initiatives within the legal industry.”