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How To Build Your Firm's Professional Development Program

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Firms go to great lengths to find and hire the best talent, but once hired, many firms stand back and see who sinks and who swims. While some talent can thrive on its own, taking an active hand in managing your lawyers' development ensures that the firm gets the most out of its employees.

How can you build your firm's professional development program in order to turn promising talent into an actual pay out? Here are some ideas to start with.

Building a Robust Program in House

Attorney Paul Burton argues for developing a competencies-focused program. Start by asking partners what they look for when determining if a lawyer is "partner material." Use the patterns that emerge from those conversations to define which competencies are most essential to your practice. Training should then focus on those substantive skills.

Some firms develop talent through a four step process. First, assign promising attorneys a mentor, someone whose exceptional skills could rub off. Develop specific benchmarks associates should accomplish by specific dates. When, for example, should an associate be able to take a deposition? Train associates in their practice areas as well as in leadership and development and finally, encourage promising associates to take on a role in community leadership.

Bringing in the External Experts

While an in-firm framework can help a professional development program take off, most firms will need to bring in outside experts from time to time. After all, if partners were devoting themselves fully to developing talent, they'd no longer have any hours left to practice.

Outside consultants and experts can help your firm's professional development program in a variety of ways, from establishing a system for evaluating performance to providing specific training focused on relevant skills.

Be careful to make sure you find a program that meets the needs of your attorneys. While web-based PD is becoming more common, associates prefer in-person development opportunities, according to studies.

Remember, too, that not everything can be outsourced. Law firm associates overwhelmingly rate on-the-job training and mentorships as the most valuable professional development activities.

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