866-987-4111

Fields marked with an * are required

Sign up for our newsletter

Posts tagged with "Business Mentorship"

The Generational Disconnect Between Law Firm Partners & Associates

By: David B. Sarnoff, Esq., With Natalie Loeb, Gordon Loeb & David Robert

Editorial Note: We changed the names of those interviewed for this article to maintain their anonymity.

When I was a junior associate in the mid-1990s, partners and associates were able to connect over common life experiences, in how we grew up and began our careers. Even though many of the partners were more than 20 years my senior, we were all raised before the Internet and cell phones, we were content with seven channels on television, we went to the movies and rode our bikes to the park. Despite the technological advancements in the 90s, many functions at our firm were still being done manually or with limited automation. I recall bates stamping documents by hand and researching caselaw in a physical library with the help of books (gasp!), digests, reporters, and supplements.[1]

Over 20 years later, law firm life has changed dramatically. We often hear from our leadership training clients about the generational disconnect between junior associates and partners, creating challenges to a productive workplace culture. The common threads in these stories include a lack of mutual understanding of each other’s needs, how others communicate, give and receive feedback, and collaborate.  This may be the result of having fewer common life experiences than with the previous generation.

I spoke at length with an attorney, Michael, who has practiced law for over 25 years and was a partner at an AmLaw 100 firm. He recalled the excitement he felt after graduating from a prestigious law school and starting his career at a large New York firm. From the first day on the job, he felt a deep sense of commitment to the firm and aspired to be a partner. He doesn’t see the same commitment from the new generation of associates.

Michael discussed how when he was a junior associate the practice of law involved more human interaction, collaboration, and mentoring. With respect to the law firm library culture, he said, “I would analogize it to the college experience. At the law library, there were always a group of young associates talking to one another at the reference desk or at each other’s table.” Practicing law was a social activity. “I think it built some esprit de corps,” Michael added, and would lead to establishing relationships outside of work.

Document reviews, or due diligence trips, presented additional opportunities for attorneys to strengthen their bond. During the early part of Michael’s career, he would frequently join junior and senior attorneys to off-site trips to review thousands of pages of documents that were stored in a warehouse. The document review in many respects was an opportunity to essentially live together in the same hotel, eat together at the same restaurants, and engage in informal chit-chat that increased the degree of awareness and collaboration across the team. Although the document reviews could slip into the mundane, Michael appreciated the opportunity to connect with his peers. “Document review trips felt like being in the trenches,” he recalled. “You got to know people better and there was that sense of shared experiences.”

With the technological explosion in law over the past decade in e-discovery and artificial intelligence, there are fewer of these extended document review trips. “The law library has been rendered almost extinct,” Michael shared, underscoring the sentiment of many of his contemporaries. Millions of documents are now streamed through servers to an attorney’s desk and, in many ways, law can be practiced without ever leaving one’s office. That’s certainly inconsistent with how Michael was trained. “The practice of law has become a lonely experience,” Michael said. “I can go days without seeing an associate.”

Shawn, another seasoned partner I spoke with, shares some of Michael’s perspective. He sees erosion in the sense of urgency among junior associates, partly due to the changing dynamic between partners and associates. “Small firms are trying to take my clients and big firms are trying to take my clients,” Shawn said. “It is so hard to bring in business but so easy to lose a client when mistakes are made, or a client feels disrespected.”

Shawn sees a lack of understanding across the associate ranks of the practice of building and retaining strong client relationships. Practicing law isn’t always glamorous. The small transactional tasks can be just as important as the richer assignments, but associates don’t always share that same perspective. “When I give assignments, I’m occasionally greeted with an eye roll,” he shared. “Associates need to understand that each assignment, no matter how mundane, is critical to solidifying the firm/client relationship which helps grow more business and profitability.”

“I am still waiting to get a junior me as an associate,” Michael said, although he knows that is unlikely given the generational divide.

Not all partners see these emerging challenges as directly related to a generational gap. “I have never had to deal with so many spreadsheets and reports,” said Cathryn, a partner who has been practicing law since the early 1990s. She points to a shift within her firm toward hyper examination of compensation, expenses, and investments. She describes the shift as the legal profession morphing into the legal business. She doesn’t think the generational gap is contributing to the firm’s challenges to the degree that others may assert. “The quality of the associates hasn’t changed in 15 years,” she said.

When reflecting on firm culture today, Cathryn offered some advice to both associates and partners. She advised associates to “align yourself with good lawyers and people who can give good guidance. Learn from firm leaders.” As for firm leadership, “If you want top talent, then understand top talent doesn’t want to work 24/7. Firms need to offer professional development so associates feel valued.”

Kim, an HR Director with many years of big law experience, couldn’t agree more. “A lot of things get blamed on the Millennial generation simply because they are young,” she said. “There is a lot of ageism against the younger associates.” And Kim doesn’t hold back on why there might be challenges between partners and associates. “Millennials are less likely to take crap and they will express themselves. That is not something that generally happened 20 years ago.” Kim’s perspective hits a chord with many of the recruiters I spoke to as well. “Millennials demand more and if they are not heard they will move,” Kim said. “Because there is such a negative stereotype around Millennials, firms aren’t listening to what associates are saying and are dismissing their concerns.”

Michael supports Kim’s call for action. “Leaders need to be responsive to needs and desires,” he said. “Young lawyers may want a lot of different things and that doesn’t make them bad or ineffective people.” Michael encourages partners to recognize that the conventional model has changed, and that firms can be trailblazers on Millennial engagement only if they are willing to change. But he knows that change at a typical law firm moves at a glacial pace. “Firms need to cultivate their second- and third-year associates,” Michael added.

Associates clearly offer a differing perspective on law firm life. “We work hard, bill big hours and make sacrifices to perform at a high level,” said Jennifer, an associate at a large firm. “No matter how much a firm will promote long-term growth opportunities and the chance to make partner, we obviously see that only a small number make it every year.” Jennifer shared many stories about the pressures of the associate role and why she feels somewhat cynical. “It’s just not an honest conversation and that is why some associates don’t aspire to partnership because they believe firms are not dedicated to their development as an attorney or leader.”

Other associates shared Jennifer’s perspective, particularly as it relates to partner expectations. “We are placed in a difficult situation where we are told we don’t take initiative and simply wait to be given instructions,” Jennifer adds. “However, we are not permitted to act alone, and I can’t contact a client directly without running it through a senior associate or partner.”

Carla, a partner at a different firm, added yet another perspective on the changing times within the legal field. She said that while there still needs to be improvement in women leadership and partner development, it is much better than when she was coming up the ranks nearly 30 years ago.  She describes the reaction from her firm leadership when she told the partners she was pregnant. “I felt as if I had to apologize, because some partners viewed it as a lack of seriousness in working toward partnership.”

It’s safe to state that the practice of law is being disrupted at a rapid pace. Clients are commoditizing services, competition to retain clients and talent is fierce, and there’s an awakening spreading across the industry to the acceptance that a firm’s legal expertise may not be enough. Perhaps the caliber and effectiveness of the internal relationships, particularly between partners and associates, may be the necessary focus for long-term firm success.

“Rather than focus on what separates us, maybe this is the right time to start a conversation about what unites us,” said David Robert, Chief Strategy Officer at Loeb Leadership Development Group. “People gravitate to the legal profession for a compelling reason. We may find that partners and associates have more in common than we think. Let’s start there.”

A mid-level associate, Stephanie, suggests some examples that could begin to build a bridge.  “As a young associate, I feel that partners often underestimate the value of our presence during court proceedings, depositions, or any instances of client interaction. Even if we’re simply there to silently shadow, the opportunity alone allows us to absorb skills and techniques that we’re not exposed to through document review or legal research.”  She continues, “The ability to shake hands and introduce ourselves to clients allows us to begin establishing relationships that will ideally strengthen the clients’ connection to the firm.”

Additionally, Stephanie offers other opportunities to connect, including, “Professional development seminars, particularly “lunch and learn” discussions, with partners, are incredibly beneficial. Law school courses don’t address the true nuts and bolts of the industry or impart expertise that can only be gained through experience. The sheer wealth of knowledge and experience that partners possess, position them to be the ultimate educators for the next generation of lawyers,” she concluded.

Natalie Loeb, Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership Development Group, sums it up this way, “Approach your work with your colleagues, teammates, bosses, clients, and direct reports with a sense of curiosity, a dose of empathy and a willingness to have a two-way discussion… and close the gap.”

INFORMATION ON THE AUTHORS:

DAVID B. SARNOFF, ESQ., is Director of Strategic Partnerships of Loeb Leadership Development Group and an Executive Coach. dsarnoff@loebleadership.com,  866-987-4111.

 

NATALIE LOEB is Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership

Development Group and a Leadership Coach. natalie@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111.

 

GORDON LOEB is COO of Loeb Leadership Development

Group and an Executive Coach. gordon@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111.

 

DAVID ROBERT is Chief Strategy Officer of Loeb Leadership Development Group

david@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111.

[1] Bates stamping is the process of applying a set of identifying numbers to a document collection.  When I was an associate, it was done with a hand-held device called a Bates Stamp.

Distractions Can Derail You

We live in an age of endless distractions. Our phones are constantly alerting us with email and social media notifications, and our desktops make it all too easy to click on a video or news article. It seems we just can’t get away from these distractions no matter how hard we try to escape them. Many of us have days where we feel it takes a tremendous sum of energy just to stay on-task.

How can we avoid these distractions, especially when they are unwelcome, unanticipated and quite frankly, a nuisance? What measures can you take to fight back?

How to Stand Strong Against Distraction

Here are some suggested methods to keep your mind focused on the tasks at hand.

Prioritize your day. For most of us, distractions become more seductive as the day wears on.  Prioritizing your day to manage your pressing matters and important tasks should be handled first thing in the morning—knocking them out while you’re as focused as can be.

Stick to your plan. It is a smart practice to create a checklist of things to be accomplished for the day. Set realistic goals that align with the number of tasks and time required to complete each task and stay on point. If you overwhelm yourself, you may fall susceptible to seek out distractions to manage the undue stress – essentially doing the opposite of your intended plan.

Turn off your phone. No, really. And while you’re at it, turn off any notifications on your computer. These distractions can seem insurmountable sometimes, but the good news is you have the ability to control it – turn them off.

Sleep well. You need your eight hours each night. Again, lack of sleep can decrease your energy and stamina, meaning when distraction comes, you are less likely to resist it.

Acknowledge your progress. After completing a task, get into the routine of taking a quick breather, and make sure you cross the item off your to-do list. This is a great way to get closure, and to have a little momentum for the next task.

Get physical. Science confirms again and again that physical activity—even a quick burst of it—can focus your mind and clear away some of those cumbersome distractions. You don’t have to spend an hour at the gym to get these effects. Walk up and down a flight of stairs once or twice, or close your office door and do a minute of jumping jacks.

Eat a meal. Skipping meals makes you more prone to distraction. Why? For one thing, your blood sugar drops, and as such your stamina and your energy decline. Also, the actual act of sitting and chewing can have a “reset” effect on your mind. Take at least half an hour for lunch and start the afternoon with a fresh canvas.

With these tips, you can be more resilient in the face of distraction—and hopefully get more work done each day. To learn more about enhancing your workplace vim and vigor, reach out to Loeb Leadership Development Group today.

Keep Your Employees Happy and You’ll Keep Your Employees

High employee turnover is expensive. It costs money, time, and productivity – and it lowers morale. So it’s no surprise that today’s most innovative employers are investing as much as they can in employee retention.

As with any investment, however, you want a solid return. So knowing how to invest matters.

Most employers don’t have the resources, financial or physical, to install Olympic-sized pools, indoor rainforests, or NBA-regulation-sized basketball courts to keep their employees engaged and happy. The good news is they don’t have to.

Employers can ensure that team members feel valued and engaged by providing things like challenging work, a space conducive to productivity and efficiency, and a flexible approach to work-life balance.

Some examples:

  • Give team members the kind of space they need to do their best work. Provide those that need it a quiet place to focus and concentrate, while also offering open work spaces that enable collaboration and communication when necessary.
  • Offer competitive benefits like health insurance, life insurance, and a retirement-savings plan if you can.
  • Be flexible where possible in scheduling and PTO policies. Employees appreciate being trusted to know the best way for them to balance work and family/non-work commitments.
  • Delegate real responsibilities to your team members. We all have to do mundane tasks here and there, but those should be few and far between. Employees are happier when they feel that they are contributing value and are given autonomy.
  • Keep your employees in the loop. Certainly some business dealings require confidentiality, but where you can, share your big-picture mission with your team – and, as important, the way in which each member’s role contributes to the success of that mission.
  • Really listen to your employees. Encourage open communication with team leaders as to the good and bad of your company culture, specific workloads, or overall company direction.
  • Offer seemingly small perks, like a high-end coffee maker in the break room, free bagels or sandwiches on Fridays, or discounted gym memberships nearby. Little things that help employees feel appreciated go a long way.
  • And last, but certainly not least, thank employees for a job well done. This often gets lost in the shuffle. The expectation is that employees should do their jobs because they are being paid to. While that may be true, appreciating good work costs nothing yet is priceless in keeping employees happy.

You know your employees. Perhaps a foosball table in the breakroom will go over better than something like complimentary dry-cleaning delivery services. The point is that employee retention doesn’t have to drain your resources. If you focus your investment in your employees in a manner that keeps them feeling valued and engaged, it will be an investment well made.

We invite you to consider all the options available to you for boosting employee retention. Contact Loeb Leadership Development Group to learn more!

An Executive’s Approach to Building an Effective Leadership Team

One of the hallmarks of a great leader is to identify the leadership potential in those around them, nurturing their people management skills and positioning them for continued success and development.  To effectively grow a firm or business, leadership is one of the most important driving forces, as it can inspire and motivate a workforce, and conversely, poor leadership can demoralize employees and encourage them to seek other opportunities.

Whether you’re hiring from the inside or casting a wider net, it is important to show care in your recruitment efforts. In this post, we have highlighted five skills you should be looking for as you build out your leadership team.

The Characteristics of Effective Leaders

Trust. The first trait you should look for in potential leaders is their ability to establish trust. Leaders do this by modeling the behavior they expect of others and holding themselves accountable to nurture a high trust culture.  Successful leaders establish trust by individually engaging members of their team, to build relationships both personally and professionally.

Vision. Seek out a candidate who can communicate the vision of your company—condensing it into a clear and succinct message, and getting other people excited about it. In order to achieve an effective message, communication needs to be authentic and sincere. It should also include input from the shareholders and stakeholders of the organization to solidify buy-in.

Commitment. There is a saying — Commitment is the glue that bonds you to your goals. Leaders who are driven by achieving goals tend to play a role in motivating and inspiring those around them.  Look for leaders who view their role as being part of something greater than themselves and demonstrate follow through.

Organization. Any department leader or division chair you hire is going to provide employees with a roadmap, showing both short-term and long-term goals and clarifying key processes. That’s going to require a high level of organization. Look for leaders who can take complex concepts, ideas, and methodologies and break them down into digestible and easily understood processes or actions.

Communication. This is arguably the most important skill a leader can have, so make sure you emphasize this for any leadership position. A good leader excels in both written and verbal communication and can deliver a message with key takeaways and no confusion. Additionally, leaders in a high trust culture encourage the sharing of constructive feedback – so it is important to identify a leader that has the capacity to foster that environment.

These are some of the touchstones to keep in mind as you look for employees with the potential to lead—and remember: Those who show potential may still need development. To learn more about nurturing new and effective leadership in your company, contact Loeb Leadership Development Group today.

How to be Mindful When Engaging a Potential Mentor

Mentorship can be a rewarding experience for mentor and mentee alike. In today’s corporate environment, the mentoring process offers an exchange of knowledge and experience for both participants and has proven to be beneficial for career advancement. However, the process is also a real commitment, that requires time, patience, and dedication.

As with any task or goal that is worthwhile, obtaining a mentor requires commitment and a growth mindset. It is important to be self-aware and be open to an honest and introspective dialogue. The benefits can be limitless. The first person you ask may not be available to mentor you, but if you continue to search for a mentor that aligns with your goals, you will eventually find one that says yes.

Maybe the mentor you seek is a more senior attorney who works at your law firm, or a seasoned professional who you met at a networking event or industry conference. Before you approach this individual and ask them to take you under their wing, make sure you have a good sense of how to ask—laying bare your expectations, and acknowledging the commitment you’re asking this individual to make on your behalf.

It Starts with Gratitude

Once you make some preliminary connection with your potential mentor, send an email asking them if they are willing to meet with you. Be clear about your intentions entering into this relationship.

It’s important that this initial message be grounded in a grateful attitude. You’re asking them for an investment of their time, and you shouldn’t act entitled to it. Instead, make it clear that you’re thankful for whatever time they can offer you.

On a related note: Be respectful and aware that your mentor has a lot of demands on their time already, whether professionally or personally. Avoid hasty follow-up emails if they don’t respond right away.

Also, when you email them, it’s okay to mention some of the reasons you think they’d be a good mentor, and to note your admiration of them—but don’t cross the line into “buttering them up.” Try to avoid listing all the bullet points from their resume in an effort to flatter.

In the Initial Meeting

When you meet with your mentor for the first time, you should focus on establishing a personal rapport and get to know each other’s backgrounds. Finding common interests can be beneficial to the mentor/mentee relationship. Next, create a foundation for communication that helps facilitate a free flow of thoughts and ideas, and establish a basis for trust and confidentiality.

Here are some additional tips for continued communication with your mentor:

  • Be clear about what it is you’re looking for; guidance, coaching or to shadow them at their job.
  • Ask your mentor how he or she would like to communicate; by phone, email, Skype, or in person?
  • Commit to a regular schedule of meetings. Again, be mindful of your mentor’s time, but do try to set up a consistent meeting time—once a week, once a month, or whatever other rhythm you can agree on.
  • Be willing to put in some work. Ask your mentor if they have any “homework” you should do between now and your next meeting—and whatever it is, take it seriously!
  • Finally, remember that a potential mentor may simply not have the hours in the day to take you on right now, and this probably isn’t anything personal. Be gracious if they respectfully decline your request.

Identifying an individual who exemplifies a similar vision of success, and who you feel offers the experience and wisdom that you want to align yourself with, is worth the risk of asking. Use these tips to initiate a mentor/mentee relationship that will begin your journey.

To learn more about the value of workplace coaching and mentorship, contact the Loeb Leadership Development Group team today.