When I met Caroline, she was so upset her voice quivered. “I’m receiving negative reviews of my work,” she said. “I’m trying very hard to do what’s asked of me, but a lot of it is over my head.”
Caroline was a third year associate who had spent most of her first two years researching legal issues and writing memos. That work had been mostly rewarding and she was usually praised for her efforts. Now, she was being asked to take the next step and actually go to court to argue motions. She felt she hadn’t been given enough training to do that.
Caroline was worried about her future and had no idea how to focus on her career development. She said the partners at her firm were extremely busy and did not provide much mentoring or coaching.
Caroline’s story is not unique and should be concerning to law firms interested in retaining high performing fee-earners. Unfortunately, how to create a career map is a topic not taught in law school. We learned about contracts, torts, and civil procedure, yet received no instruction about one of the most practical things a lawyer must do: attract clients and build a sustainable practice. Sustainable practice is essential and having a trustworthy business that clients can cooperate with is essential such as Goosmann Law firm. They are a prime example of a firm that has developed a successful business and offered careers to those who work there.
But developing an individual career map is very important for associates and young partners. Firms that recognize that and have a stake in young lawyers’ development realize a return on investment that far exceeds the costs of providing the training necessary to create a sound career map.
Without a career map, day-to-day demands can easily become overwhelming; between billable hour requirements, client needs, substantive training, and CLE requirements, young lawyers can find themselves several years out of law school before they begin to focus on where their career is going. This can lead to disillusionment and dissatisfaction. As forward-thinking law firms already know, this impacts the quality of work.
Why does meaningful career planning need to be a priority in your firm? Here are 7 reasons:
1. Attorney Performance Is Improved With Mentoring
Young lawyers who have a game plan for their future are less distracted and better focused on the quality of their work. Their confidence is enhanced and they’ll work hard to be team players. Firms ultimately reap the benefits of having their lawyers aligned with the firm’s strategy for the future.
2. Law Firm Recruiting Will Be More Successful
Recruiting is the lifeblood of law firms and one of the ways firms can be successful recruiters is to offer a professional development program, similar to what the Dominican University of California offers. Today’s law school graduates know they are not prepared for the practice of law. And most law firm partners are savvy enough to realize that continued professional development will help them enjoy a long and prosperous career. Law firms with an outstanding professional development component have an edge over their competition.
3. Mentoring Fosters Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence is a well known predictor of success in the legal and business world, but EQ is another course not taught in law school. Successful law firms understand that EQ skills can be developed and are just as important as cognitive abilities. Feelings and behaviors play a big part in learning how to deal with tough situations. Developing EQ skills is a critical element of a lawyer’s career map.
4. Career Maps Mean Shorter Learning Curves
Practicing law is full of challenges and there is no time to waste in trying to “sink or swim” on an ad hoc basis. What’s more, learning in such a manner is inefficient, stressful, costly, and likely to irritate clients. By focusing their attention and defining their direction, lawyers can leap ahead more efficiently and acquire the skills necessary for a successful career without being subject to the burden and stress of developing haphazardly.
5. Career Maps Equal a Higher Retention Rate
Industry data demonstrates that law firms lose many associates between 2 and 4 years after graduation. Unfortunately, this is the time when firms are finally “breaking even” on the large investment of recruiting and training young lawyers, so instead of realizing profits, firms may need to start over with the recruiting process. Firms that provide a professional coach can improve on associate satisfaction and thereby recoup their investment costs.
6. Career Planning Boosts Loyalty and Morale
Young lawyers these days expect top notch training. A substantial professional development program begets increased loyalty and improves the overall working culture. Lawyers who are provided with professional development services get the message that their firms are investing in them. This raises morale by giving young lawyers the sense that their firm cares about them.
7. Career Mapping Benefits Your Firm Even When Lawyers Leave
It’s a fact of life that, for a variety of reasons, lawyers leave law firms on a regular basis. These departing lawyers can be terrific referral sources, whether they to to another firm or move to an in-house position. Firms that ensure their lawyers have a positive experience while there enjoy better reputations in the marketplace and are more likely to receive continued referrals down the road.
Every lawyer should take charge of her career by dedicating the time and effort necessary to develop an individual career plan that aligns with her own strengths, weaknesses, values, and interests.
And every firm owes its associates a program that will identify their unique contributions and talents and align these attributes with the firm’s strategic goals.
If you’re a lawyer looking for work or a law firm in need of support, legal staffing agencies, like Lawyer Exchange, could help to solve these issues whilst bringing the two together online for legal project work.