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June 30, 2022

Tone at the Top: The Importance of Support for Effective Training Initiatives Inside Law Firms

The next generation of lawyers has arrived on a legal job market that is hotter than ever, driving a demand for firms to revamp their associate training. According to Bloomberg Law, there was a 50% increase in associate hiring last year, with hires closing more rapidly than before and an urgent need for law firms to adapt in order to meet the needs of today’s market. 

So how have firms begun to adjust and adapt? 

Many have realized that the old school way of training is no longer effective at attracting top talent, retaining current employees, and empowering new associates to hit the ground running. Gone are the days of reading off  PowerPoint slides or throwing folks into deep water before teaching them how to swim. Instead, firms are realizing the importance of the tone at the top—the attitudes of the law firm leaders, partners and professional development managers towards associate training.

That’s why we’re sharing what new associates look for when it comes to leadership support for training and how firms can adapt to these needs so they implement effective training. 

Don’t Just “Check the Box”

Some law firms think they have “checked the box” on training by simply providing access to videos or hosting powerpoint presentations.  But associates these days are looking for more, and law firm leaders and partners should know better.  No amount of videos and presentations will do the trick when it comes to learning the legal skills associates need to succeed. Those skills can only be obtained by doing and getting feedback – either with the real client matters or simulated assignments. Obviously, the former is expensive.  That time spent by junior and senior lawyers needs to be written off and not charged to the client. In addition, learning on real matters can be limiting if the deal flow is limited and/or assignments are not distributed equally or across a spectrum of developmental needs.

As a result, the best associate training programs simulates real world experience and allows associates to apply their knowledge and skills in a safe environment.  Senior attorneys play a crucial role in setting this tone by allowing associates time to dig into simulations and encouraging intellectual curiosity without fear of being “wrong” or negatively affecting a client.  One example is to break up mock tasks into smaller segments and give soft time allotments for each task so your associates become familiar with how much time a task typically takes without worrying about time running out. 

In addition, since associates are more actively engaged by learning through firsthand experience, their retention levels are increased. Education science tells us that our retention levels increase on a sliding scale from the more passive—what we read, see, and hear—to the more active—what we write and do. Specifically, we retain 10% of what we learn from reading, 30-50% from watching lecture/explainer videos, 70% from participating in small interactive workshops, and 90% from doing either real or simulated assignments.

Provide Clear & Strong Support 

Some firms install effective training programs but shoot themselves in the foot by not creating the time, space, and support for associates to fully engage or benefit.  Of course, client matters are always a priority, but carving out time and even assigning firm credit for training goes a long way in sending the message about the importance of training and development. This needs to also be at every office, so it is important to have all stakeholders onboard and to design the schedule/timing of the training in a way so that it does not overlap with anticipated priorities. 

Successful firms even go as far as having their leadership present at training kick-off meetings. Typically, the chair or practice group leader will say a few words and endorse the program and its importance. Practice group leaders will also drop in from time to time in regular training sessions. Associates will certainly appreciate this - but, more importantly, they will feel motivated (and safe) to put their training time as a priority while juggling client work.

All of the aspects mentioned above help set the tone of leaders caring about their associates.  By providing the resources and space for associates to make mistakes and learn, firms can show that they want to invest in their new employees and set them up for success. In the end, it is wise for firm leadership to enthusiastically and visibly encourage associates to take advantage of training investments the firm has made.  Well trained associates are more effective sooner and will ask questions that immediately elevate mentoring and guidance efforts.  

Create Meaningful Feedback Opportunities

Traditionally, new associates gained practical skills under an apprenticeship model. In recent times, however, mentorship and feedback opportunities are scarce because partners are facing increased pressure to bring in more business and manage firm responsibilities. New associates, however, crave a sense of support and providing regular feedback is a great way to demonstrate this. New lawyers want to be able to have honest conversations about  their work product with seasoned practitioners. Feedback opportunities  are not only effective for training purposes but also for setting an attitude that leaders will invest time and energy into their new associates. 

If your firm’s leaders don't have the ability to provide many feedback opportunities, consider simply asking new associates how they are doing and listen. This can provide a valuable opportunity for associates to share whether their current training is providing them with the necessary skills and tools to succeed at their jobs. When listening or responding to this inquiry, leaders should be careful to not invalidate anyone’s struggles or criticism. Rather, a leader should make their associates feel heard and strive to understand how they can improve their training. Providing and gathering feedback is a crucial way to set a positive tone towards new associate training. 

Bring Effective Associate Training to Your Firm

Firms such as K&L Gates, Orrick, Holland & Knight, Baker Donelson, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, Kirkland & Ellis, and Husch Blackwell turn to AltaClaro for the most effective training programs on the market.

Our online boot camps help lawyers leverage technology and learn practical legal skills in a hybrid format through mock transactions and live feedback sessions with seasoned practitioners. Our course catalog spans beginner to intermediate level classes in topics including: M&A, Corporate, Capital Markets, Technology Transactions, Real Estate and Lending Transactions. Our state-of-the-art learning technology platform also helps you measure and track training engagement and performance so you can see exactly how your training is driving better results for your employees as well as your ROI.

Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our experts and learn how you can bring effective associate training to your firm. 



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About the author

Abdi Shayesteh

Founder & CEO of AltaClaro, an experiential learning platform that delivers researched-backed practical skills training solutions for lawyers. Serial entrepreneur, founded and successfully sold two startups prior to age 30. Over 15 years of experience as a corporate and banking attorney in diverse settings.