Law Firm Attorney Mentoring/Development: Not a Simple Concept
Whether you call it developing, training, coaching or mentoring lawyers, this is a tough gig to pull off. Why? Well, lawyers are involved. We tend to know – or think we know – just about everything. Developing a program that, by definition, is based on the premise of changing a lawyer’s behavior can be a challenge.
That said, properly constructed attorney mentoring/development programs can be beneficial to both the individual lawyer and their organization. I have been involved in helping construct such programs in big and small law firms, including one that we are in the middle of right now.While the intentions of attorney development programs are typically good, they can be set up to fail.
There often are characteristics that serve as roadblocks to the success of the program. For example, the programs are usually developed and run by busy lawyers, who have other things on their plates besides this type of perceived extracurricular. The program can lack defined goals. Also, the idea of throwing some business books at the lawyers or conducting monthly one-on-one lunches is not sufficient.
If the intent is to develop a successful program, a holistic approach is necessary. Here are key items that need to be addressed for attorney mentoring/development programs:
- Have non-lawyers involved in the development and implementation of the program. This would include business coaches or those skilled in facilitating corporate training programs. This leverages necessary expertise. Lawyers should practice law. That is why law firms hire accountants and marketing agencies, so the same should be true for these types of mentoring programs. Outside professionals can work with the lawyers in the firm to construct a successful plan of action.
- Identify concrete goals for the program. These goals may include developing better lawyering skills, increased client development, general business skills, reducing attrition in the organization, or achieving better work-life balance for the participants, among others.
- Get meaningful input from all stakeholders, including the leadership of the organization and the participants. This input should occur during the development of the program, throughout its execution and when it is completed.
- Look for outside partnerships with bar associations and law schools. There may be unique opportunities to work with these institutions to achieve the goals of the firm’s development program.
- Put the plan in writing and include metrics to achieve the goals. Each organization’s mentoring program will look different, including logistics. How often should meetings occur? Should there be group meetings and/or one-on-one coaching sessions? What roles should the lawyers who are leaders in the firm take versus the outside experts brought in to implement the program? The plan should include expectations for all of the participants.
- Make sure the goals and the implementation of the mentoring program is consistent with the culture of the organization. Such a program cannot be successful if it requires a dynamic that is foreign to the firm. Again, this goes back to the buy-in of the stakeholders.
- Be ready to call an audible at the line of scrimmage and adjust the structure of the program. Trust me, everything will not always work as expected. When the new-ness wears off, the program can waffle. Excitement wanes. This may mean that there is a flaw in the program or that the concept is not being embraced within the culture of the organization. This may lead to fundamental changes or simple logistical adjustments.
If successful (however you define that), attorney development programs can help set law firms apart from others. Lawyers functioning on all cylinders can only increase the effectiveness of the firm by capitalizing on the talents of the team to better serve the firm’s clients.