The Generational Disconnect Between Law Firm Partners & Associates

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 technology 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 twenty 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 twenty-five 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 spread sheets 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 thirty 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 and an Executive Coach. dsarnoff@loebleadership.com,  866-987-4111.

NATALIE LOEB is Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership and a Leadership Coach. natalie@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111.

GORDON LOEB is COO of Loeb Leadership and an Executive Coach. gordon@loebleadership.com, 866-987-4111.

DAVID ROBERT is Chief Strategy Officer of Loeb Leadership.

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.

The ROI of Attorney Development

Most of us understand that investing in the development of the lawyers in our firms and companies makes good sense. Teaching or reminding everyone from the newest associate to the most-experienced counselor how best to communicate with other attorneys and with clients, manage their time, and get superior work-product from themselves and those they oversee seems intuitively like something worth doing.

But how do we know development programs work? Is it possible to measure the return on such an investment so that we can justify the cost in money, time, and other resources?

Determining the value of professional development in quantifiable terms can be a frustrating exercise in subjectivity – particularly when you don’t have a solid metric like increased sales numbers or a surge in new clients by which to measure purported success.

A 2010 study[1] attempted to estimate monetary return on development investment, or “RODI,” using utility analysis. The study provided a means by which companies could estimate a dollar value associated with making professional development investments.

Specifically, it formulated an equation: RODI = (N)(T)(d)(SDy) – C

·      N = the number of participants in the development program

·      T = the number of years during which a change in professional behavior could be expected

·      d = the average difference in outcomes between trained and untrained employees (determined to be .52 by additional research[2])

·      SDy = the value of one standard deviation of performance or 40% of an individual’s salary

·      C = the total cost of training the expected number of participants

As a basic example, a firm that put 10 people through a professional development program, anticipating improvement over 3 years, with average participant compensation of $500,000 and a program cost of $50,000, the RODI would be 10(N) x 3(T) x .52(d) x 200K (40% of $500K)(SDy) - $50K(C), or approximately $3.1 million.

Now, this type of calculation can seem a little abstruse. But what it does show is that even if you tweak these numbers a bit (say, for opportunity cost on training days, etc.), there is still a large financial upside to professional development training.

To achieve the best RODI possible, you will want to be sure you invest resources wisely. In addition, a financial return is not the only measure of valuing an investment in professional training. Successful professional training will result in positives like enhanced employee satisfaction/less defection and more positive client experiences/boosted referrals.

As you engage in professional development training, we recommend the following tactics:

1.     Focus Your Development Efforts. Not all “development training” is the same. Simply incorporating a training program into your business will not automatically produce results – and that results in a waste of resources. The first thing to do is establish what problem(s) you are trying to address with training or what business opportunities you hope to expand on.

2.     Get Input Before Training. While you will certainly spot issues of concern in your firm or company, there are many of which you may not be aware. Trust your colleagues to know what they need as well. Some may be struggling with things you didn’t even realize were concerns. Ensuring that development is tailored to the specific needs of your team will result in a more efficient use of your resources. Understand that simply because a colleague is not employing a specific skillset at present doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t possess it.

3.     Don’t Use “One Size Fits All” Training. Simply putting your employees through “Development 101” training won’t work for everyone. Certainly, attorneys new to a particular area of practice will have different training needs than those who’ve been practicing in an area for a length of time. This does not always correlate to years in practice. Keep in mind that even more experienced attorneys will need to have basic training in some areas when they have changed their focus or gone from working in a company to a firm (or vice versa).

4.     Get Feedback After Training. Ask your employees how training went. Was it worth their time? Do they feel it was relevant to their jobs? How could it be improved? This will make the next development training exercise you organize even more effective.     

No matter how you measure it, it’s clear that professional training provides a solid return on investment if it is properly planned and managed.

[1] Avolio, B. J., Avey, J. B., & Quisenberry, D. (2010). Estimating return on leadership development investment. The Leadership Quarterly, 633–644.

[2] Richard, Brett W., Holton, Elwood F. III, Katsioloudes, Vicky (2014). The use of discrete computer simulation modeling to estimate return on leadership development investment. The Leadership Quarterly, 1060.

 

Diversity and Inclusion: Are Law Firms Getting It Wrong?

On June 5, 2019, legal experts, including law firm partners, recruiters, human resources executives and business leaders, joined Loeb Leadership in New York City for a roundtable dialogue on the state of diversity, equity and inclusion in the legal industry. The objective of the roundtable was to better understand why there has been little progress increasing the number of diverse attorneys despite significant investments over the past two decades. The roundtable covered many important topics and two things became clear: Law firms may be getting it wrong when it comes to increasing diversity, equity and inclusion, and any meaningful results will require firm leadership to have the courage to effect change. Take, for example, the fact that diversity and inclusion has been a focus for over 20 years yet there has been only incremental progress. In 2017, women made up 48% of summer associates and 45% of associates yet only 20% of partners and 18% of equity partners were female (ABA 2017). In 2018, only 4.4% of associates were African-American and although women comprised 49.5% of all associates, just 39% of partner promotions went to women (NALP, 2018).

Let's start by highlighting some of the positive news that was shared during our forum. Many of the participants felt that although progress is not moving fast enough, there are some reasons to be encouraged; access to implicit bias training, recent promotions of diverse partners and a shift to focusing on an inclusive workplace culture rather than diversity metrics are examples of positive change. Some participants noted that they've seen considerable effort within their firm to increase investment in mentoring diverse associates, while other participants felt their firm was making progress on diversifying the cohort of incoming associates. However, all participants agreed that more needed to be done, and soon.

In contrast to the stories of progress being made at some firms, the dialogue format encouraged participants to share deeply personal stories of the obstacles they continue to face. And they did. A lack of general support and mentorship from senior leaders, and a resistance to prioritizing an inclusive workplace culture seemed to permeate much of our conversation. Others shared examples of explicit bias. In one example, a participant recounted a conversation in which an attorney said that associates of color have not fully earned their position and do not perform to the same level as their Caucasian peers.

The shared examples point to uncomfortable yet serious questions about what's really happening at the core of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at law firms. Here's what we learned thus far. A real, lasting solution to fostering a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace culture will occur only when the majority demonstrates the courage to effect change. The current philosophy of "handing" diversity and inclusion over to the very groups who continue to be marginalized may actually be causing more harm to diverse associates' careers, rather than helping.

During our follow-up research, we found that in many instances associates and partners of color were unduly burdened with non-billable time in order to represent the firm at both recruiting and D&I events. White attorneys were essentially exempt from this activity and seen as spending their discretionary time expanding their portfolios through business development, additional billable hours and attorney professional development.

Another example included firm mentors advising associates against joining any of the diversity and inclusion groups or associate committees because those groups were seen as “the complainers” and any association with the groups could cause lasting harm to one’s career advancement.

Given this, you can easily see how the false narratives about the performance and productivity of associates of color are formed. The expectation that the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion at law firms is a problem that minority attorneys need to solve is no more valid than an expectation that poverty will only be solved by people in the lowest income bracket. Those in the majority, particularly those in positions of authority and power must take courageous steps to demonstrate to all associates that the firm is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, is willing to initiate difficult dialogue related to implicit and explicit bias, and will make the necessary changes to the firm’s operating philosophy to ensure a level playing field.

It became clear that the most impactful “investment” in diversity, inclusion and equity in the legal industry may not be a financial one (i.e., funding a D&I Officer role, external diversity events, etc.), and instead might be holding senior leaders accountable for leading by example. A sincere step would be to require members of the firm’s executive committee to participate in diversity, equity and inclusion activities and to take immediate steps to prioritize the support and development of the firm’s diverse attorneys. Additionally, if attorneys of color preferred to focus their energies on building their practices or elevating their practicing skills instead of diversity and inclusion activities, they should not be met with criticism. All participants made a formal commitment, by accepting a Loeb Leadership challenge coin, to return to their respective organizations with a sense of urgency.

As part of our commitment, Loeb Leadership is planning a follow-up event for early 2020.  We must not let the momentum from the roundtable subside and we realize that to keep up the momentum, we need to expand the reach of the people at our table. Accordingly, David Sarnoff will be reaching out to firm leadership with an invitation to commit to and engage in our next roundtable, where we will be exploring ways to effectively lead the type of change that is necessary for progress.

If you are a managing partner or executive committee member and you do not want to wait for the formal invitation, feel free to contact David B. Sarnoff, Esq. at dsarnoff@loebleadership.com or 917-992-0264.

6 Ways to Improve Your Influencing Skills

From the publication in 1936 of Dale Carnegie’s best-seller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, to the marketing world’s current exploitation of social media influencers to gain market share, the ability to influence has been considered key to success in business for decades.

 So, what exactly is influence and why does it matter?

 Merriam-Webster defines influence as “the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.” In the business world, that boils down to getting people to do what you want – not because you told them to, but because they are convinced it’s the right thing to do.

 Dorie Clark, author of Entrepreneurial You,[1] says that when you have the ability to influence, “You get more done and you advance the projects you care about and are responsible for.” According to Clark that translates into you being “more likely to be noticed, get promoted, and receive raises.” And while the ability to influence can benefit you personally, it also helps those you lead because they feel collaborated with and listened to rather than ordered about.

 In today’s world of myriad digital distractions, taking the time and energy needed to build influence is harder than ever. We, and our colleagues, work so quickly and are often stretched so thin that learning how to build constructive influence sometimes falls by the wayside.

 Below are a few suggestions that might help you build your influence as a leader in your company or firm.

1.     Build Trusted Relationships. Building trust requires honesty and transparency. If a colleague does not trust you, they won’t be open to your influence. Share as much information as you can with co-workers. Don’t keep them in the dark or hoard information. When you share information, including your honest thoughts and opinions, you are not only showing colleagues that you are above-board and can be trusted, you are telling them that you trust them too.

2.     Listen.  Make sure your co-workers not only feel heard but are heard. Give people undivided attention. Ask detailed follow-up questions indicating that you are listening to everything. Put away your phone. Face colleagues when you talk to them and look them in the eye.

3.     Be Consistent. If you are consistent in your work ethic, your abilities, your attention to detail, and in taking time to engage with colleagues, you will gain a reputation for being reliable. Unpredictability will chip away quickly at your ability to influence. In addition to trusting you and your judgment, colleagues need to know that you are dependable and that they can count on you.

4.     Be Confident. When you present your ideas with confidence, people listen. If you hem and haw, implying that you’re not sure about what you’re saying, no one else will be either. By doing your research, knowing what you’re talking about, and being prepared, you will find it much easier to project confidence and self-assuredness. Note: arrogance is not the same as confidence, and there can be a fine line between the two. Do not let justified confidence become unjustified arrogance.

5.     Compromise When You Can. Having influence doesn’t mean always getting your way. It means you know what matters and how hard to fight for it. Choose your battles. When you can adapt to the needs of others in a particular situation, you will gain their respect and appreciation. Plus, if you show a level of flexibility in your dealings, others are more likely to as well.

6.     Be Personable. The old adage “you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar” has a great deal of merit. Be amiable. Don’t drag the mood of the office down. Show an interest in your coworkers. This doesn’t mean you have to be best friends with everyone or schedule unlimited social events outside of work, it simply means you should be enjoyable to work with. A little kindness goes a long way. If you are approachable and pleasant, colleagues will be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt when processing your opinions and ideas.

 Of course, many of the above suggestions seem fairly obvious once you think about them. The problem with so many of us today, however, is that we don’t think about them. We wander the halls of our offices looking at our phones. We multi-task when we are in meetings with colleagues. We can be curt or aggressive when we are overwhelmed.

 Give yourself the luxury of time whenever you can. Fully research issues. Focus on co-workers when they are talking to you. Be consistent, friendly, reliable, and confident. You’ll soon find that you’re spending a lot less of your valuable energy trying desperately to sway people to your point of view because you have already done the groundwork and gained influence.

[1] Clark, D. (2017). Entrepreneurial You: Monetize Your Expertise, Create Multiple Income Streams, and Thrive. Harvard Business Review Press.

Leading in a Multi-generational Workplace

It is conceivable today that one workplace could comprise five different generations of employees:

·       Silent Generation – Born before 1946

·       Baby Boomers – Born between 1946 – 1964

·       Generation X – Born between 1965 – 1980

·       Millennials (Gen Y) – Born between 1981 – 1998

·       Generation Z – Born after 1998[1]

Employing differing generations often means managing a wide variety of life experiences and workplace expectations. And while a diversity of age and experience is certainly a positive thing, it can be challenging to learn how to lead and motivate such a broad range of employees.

 Of course, labelling an entire generation of people with an all-encompassing array of shared characteristics is not useful. Even among members of the same generation, life experiences vary greatly. But acknowledging the cultural moments that shape entire generations – regardless of individual upbringing – will help inform, to a degree, the manner in which leaders go about managing a cross-generational workforce.[2]

 For example: 

·      The Silent Generation (born pre-1946) grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. So many members are now conservative and traditional in comparison to younger groups.

·      Boomers (born 1946-1964) witnessed the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King and were spurred to react to those events by fighting and speaking out.

·      Generation X (born 1965-1976) lived through events like Watergate and Operation Desert Storm. They were also the first generation for whom divorce became a common occurrence. Many reacted by becoming fiercely self-reliant and dubious of traditional values. 

·      Millennials, or Gen Y, (born 1977-1995) grew up with the advent of social media and experienced 9/11 as children or young adults. So members of Gen Y are broadly connected to a global community that can be legitimately terrifying.

·      Generation Z are today’s teens and young adults. Social media, homeland security, and exponentially greater awareness of racial, gender, and LGBTQ injustices (sometimes referred to as being “woke”) drive them to be continuously connected and to make a difference.

 All of the above cultural touchstones affect how members of each generation experience their workplaces and what their expectations are as they enter and move through the work force. Below are just a few of the issues that leaders of multi-generational workforces face, and how to deal with them.

 “Working to Live” v. “Living to Work.” Older and younger generations view their relationships with a company in drastically different ways. While older Gen Xers and Boomers tend to view their jobs more traditionally – i.e., stay with one company, work hard, sacrifice, get promoted – younger Gen Yers and Gen Zers feel they deserve a balance and are willing to move from job to job on a cross-company trajectory if necessary.

 By providing avenues for cross-training, and thus giving younger employees a chance to build transferable skills and older workers a chance to add value via their experience, leaders can appeal to a range of generations.

 Feedback vs. Fierce Independence

Of course, trusting an employee to do their job without being micro-managed is the most productive way to lead a team. So a certain level of independence is expected and, frankly, appreciated by employees. But older generations can view constant feedback as bordering on micro-managing, while younger generations appreciate guidance.

 Maintaining some flexibility here can satisfy a range of expectations. Just as a manager would adapt to different personalities on their team, simply being aware of this generational difference and accommodating it where feasible can help alleviate a great deal of frustration.

 Communication

While younger generations are more comfortable with e-mails and texting on a regular basis, older generations may prefer in-person meetings and phone calls. Certainly there are times when each type of communication is preferable, and the size of a workforce and the physical locations of various employees can dictate which communication form works best in a given situation.

 But no matter the generation, leaders need to communicate with their employees in a manner that engages them. This may mean acknowledging employee preferences and incorporating different communication channels at different times – using digital communication when necessary and in-person calls or meetings when appropriate.

 There is no way to mold generations of employees into one homogenous group. And a good leader would not want to. But by maintaining an awareness of the cultural and experiential differences among generations, leaders can adapt to their employees’ needs in a manner that motivates employees and makes them feel valued – regardless of the year in which they were born.

[1] Kardon, Brian. 3 Tips on Managing a Multigenerational Workforce (April 16, 2019) HR Technologist. Retrieved at:

https://www.hrtechnologist.com/articles/culture/3-tips-on-managing-a-multigenerational-workforce/

[2] Moments That Shape a Generation, The Center for Generational Kinetics. Retrieved at: https://genhq.com/moments-shape-generation/

The True Grit of a Summer Associate

THE TRUE GRIT OF A SUMMER ASSOCIATE

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

 

Every year, high performing law students compete for coveted Summer Associate positions at high caliber Am Law 100 firms in major cities around the country. Since the Great Recession of 2009, many major law firms have scaled back their summer associate programs.  In some cases, firms have eliminated the programs entirely and are focusing on lateral recruiting.  Law students that are fortunate enough to be selected for one of these prized summer associate positions have the advantage of being exposed to an elite level of talent in the legal industry. They work and learn alongside legal leaders in litigation, M&A and securities, capital markets, real estate, finance, technology and intellectual property.  However, earning a summer associate position does not guarantee a full time associate a position upon graduation from law school. 

 Now, more than ever, client demands and economic disruptions have impacted the legal industry. Law firms are focusing on becoming more efficient, increasing revenue, controlling costs and hiring highly skilled, resilient attorneys who demonstrate true grit and perseverance.  Law firms that are ahead of the curve are training attorneys, managers and staff to manage their time more effectively and work collaboratively in high functioning and productive environments.  Law firms want summer associates who adapt and perform at a high level, with selective supervision.  Meaning, when a summer associate is given an assignment by a partner or senior associate, the summer associate is expected to be understanding of the task, assert confidence, and take every measure to submit high quality work. 

 In an industry that is driven by the billable hour, partners and associates are extremely mindful of their time. They demand highly thought out and pre-edited drafts of briefs, memorandums, and agreements.  If a senior lawyer receives an inferior draft of a document, it will keep them from spending time on their higher-level tasks.

 To create a more effective and efficient environment, summer associates should collaborate with other summer associates or junior attorneys to review and revise documents before submitting it for review by a senior attorney.  Summer associates need to learn how to perform in a stressful and pressured environment, as high-profile law firms in large metropolises are seeking high potential associates to fill their staffing needs.

 By demonstrating true grit and resilience, a summer associate will distinguish him or herself above the rest.  A summer associate must have the ability to translate criticism into productive conversations, to work long hours, and to maintain a positive outlook, as these are the key traits of an associate that demonstrates grit.

 A summer associate possessing grit and resilience, will reflect on negative feedback and assess where improvements need to be made. They will consult with other summer associates and attorneys to discuss how to raise the quality of their work.  When a senior attorney does not see a steady progression in productivity and talent, they will often avoid that summer associate, and refrain from assigning new tasks.  Senior attorneys will seek out an associate that has demonstrated grit and resilience, rather than one that lacks those skills.

 Law firms that have long established summer associate programs will typically match a summer associate with a mid-level or senior associate, as well as a partner for mentorship and support.  Many firms provide training by utilizing external executive coaches and workshop facilitators to develop and build upon desired skill sets.  Summer associates should take advantage of these programs, as they can be vital in developing their career.

 For some, “grit” has a harsh or negative connotation.  However, “grit” can also include the practice of soft skills such as self-awareness, empathy, curiosity, and humility.  Soft skills, combined with grit and resilience, position a summer associate to work more effectively, both independently, and within a collaborative team.  A summer associate who knows how to channel their soft skills can identify conflict and move to resolve it.  If a summer associate lacks soft skills, chances are they will exhibit arrogance, selfishness, jealousy and will be poor listeners who resist collaboration. They will also not last through the summer. 

 True grit, resilience and soft skills are as distinguishing of characteristics as being in the top 10% of your class and on law review.  Being smart is not enough to excel as an associate and rise to leadership in the modern Big Law environment.  Augmenting intellectual IQ with emotional IQ helps a summer associate stand out, exhibit an agile mindset, and position themselves to be successful high performers.  These skills become more important as law firms utilize artificial intelligence and smart machines to increase their position in the industry.  As technology advances, fewer attorneys are needed to resolve problems and provide solutions.  The attorneys that will be most in demand are those that not only excelled academically, but those who also personify true grit and resilience.  

Information About the Authors:

 Natalie Loeb is the Founder and CEO of Loeb Leadership Development Group and an Executive Coach.  She can be contacted at www.loebleadership.com and 866-987- 4111.

 Gordon Loeb is the President of Loeb Leadership Development Group and an Executive Coach. He can be contacted at www.loebleadership.com and 866-987- 4111.

 David B. Sarnoff, Esq., is the Director of Strategic Partnerships and an Executive Leadership Coach of Loeb Leadership.  He can be contacted at www.loebleadership.com, 866-987- 4111.

Are You a Sponsor or a Mentor?

We talk a lot about the different ways in which leaders can improve their effectiveness. The ability to manage toxic employees, the focus required to ensure a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment and the capacity to deal appropriately with mistakes are just a few of the skills that strong leaders develop to help move their organizations forward and keep them competitive.

 But what about ‘one-on-one’ leadership? Ensuring that employees thrive frequently requires more than creating workspaces that are conducive to success.  Encouraging employees to engage directly with those who may be in a position to help them succeed, and vice versa, allows for a level of support that goes even deeper than valuable overall organizational leadership.

 One-on-one support is generally provided to employees in two ways: via mentors and via sponsors. It is important to understand the difference between the two roles, and how they each help foster success for the employees they benefit. While both mentors and sponsors are focused on helping those who are junior to them in their fields, they rely on different means of doing so.

 Mentors

First, let’s address the role of ‘mentor.’ A mentor is someone with experience who advises a less-experienced professional with respect to general career-related issues. While mentors are usually older than mentees, they do not necessarily have to be. They simply must have more experience in a particular area, industry or the business world than their mentees. In fact, a mentor may not even work in the same company, or industry, as their mentee.

What do mentors do?

·      Act as advisors with respect to day-to-day issues

·      Assist mentees in shaping professional goals

·      Help mentees build confidence

·      Help mentees navigate challenging work situations

·      Reduce feelings of isolation or solitude

·      Act as a sounding board

 Basically, mentors offer advice and wisdom gleaned from having years of experience the mentee cannot yet claim.

 So what is the difference between a mentor and a sponsor? As economist and Columbia professor Sylvia Ann Hewlett describes it: "Mentors advise. Sponsors act."[1]

 Sponsors

Sponsors are much more proactive and ‘hands-on’ than mentors. They do more than advise: they advocate. Not only are they in the same industry as their protégés, they work at the same company and take a direct role in their protégés’ careers and how they progress. A sponsor is someone who uses their position of influence and power in an organization to fight for a protégé’s professional prospects.

What do sponsors do?

·      Push for their protégés to receive raises and promotions

·      Use their connections to move their protégés forward

·      Ensure their protégés maintain or update the skills necessary to move ahead

·      Help protégés gain the experience required for upward mobility in their jobs

·      Put their reputations on the line to help protégés succeed

 Sponsorships in particular can have a remarkable influence on an organization, especially when it comes to fostering diversity. Often, unconscious bias can keep minority candidates from achieving a certain level of success. But intentionally ensuring that such employees have one-on-one sponsors actively looking out for their interests and taking ownership of their careers goes a long way toward countering and nullifying such biases.

 Good leaders will use all the tools in their arsenal when it comes to creating a work environment that cultivates success. Promoting mentorships and sponsorships within a firm or organization is one of the best tools available.

[1] Hewlett, Sylvia Ann (2013). Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career   Harvard Business Review Press.

Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in the Workplace

Most employers are by now keenly aware of the benefits derived from actively pursuing diversity in the workplace. Diversity among employees has been shown to result in a variety of different perspectives, increased creativity, higher innovation, faster problem-solving, better decision-making, higher employee engagement, reduced employee turnover, better company reputation, improved hiring results and increased profits.[1]

 If the above benefits are indeed real, then why do some firms and companies that vigorously – and successfully – strive for diversity often see little or no progress with respect to those benefits?

 The answer is likely that they do not supplement their diversity-in-hiring practices with the equally important practices of equity and inclusion.

Diversity

What is the difference among diversity, equity and inclusion? Let’s begin by discussing the term with which the majority of us are most familiar: diversity. Merriam-Webster defines diversity as “the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.”

So, companies that are focused on diversity in their hiring practices will try to hire a “diverse” mix of people – i.e., employees of different ages, races, genders, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.

Diversity in hiring is the right first step. But what should companies do to ensure that their laudable hiring efforts result in the desired benefits to the company? First, company leadership needs to create an environment that fosters inclusion.

 Inclusion

Even if you have an astonishingly diverse team of talent, there is no guarantee that you will instantly begin seeing benefits like increased creativity, reduced employee turnover, and increased profits. Diversity is a bit like a seed that then needs to be nurtured. 

“Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”[2]

Inclusion means creating an environment in which your diversity of talent will be respected, accepted, appreciated and able to thrive. Without inclusion, diversity efforts are practically pointless.[3] It seems obvious to state, but inclusion simply means that all employees are, in fact, included in every area of your business.

If you look around a meeting and notice that everyone in the room is strikingly similar in perspective based on race, gender, age, or otherwise, you are not being inclusive.

 Inclusion involves enthusiastically welcoming the input, perspectives and involvement of every team member, while avoiding tokenism (i.e., relying on one or two people to represent an entire community at your firm or company).

Equity

So, you’ve succeeded in maintaining diversity in your hiring and you’ve actually included that diverse group of employees across the scope of your business. Now what?

 The next step is to ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities. The notion of equity accepts that biases and obstacles exist for many that do not exist for others. Essentially it means realizing that we don’t all begin on an even playing field and then working to compensate for that fact. Achieving equity in the workplace requires actively correcting for the disparity – or inequity – of advantages enjoyed by some and not others.

 To be clear, equity is not the same thing as equality.  “The goal of equality is to make sure that everyone has the same things to be successful. It is similar to equity in that it is seeking fairness for everyone, but it assumes that everyone starts equally as well.”[4]

 While employees should be treated equally when it comes to rewards based on merit and work, helping various employees get to the point at which they can do their best work may require the implementation of a variety of support systems.

 Thus, if your firm or company has implemented a diversity-in-hiring program but you feel that you are not seeing the anticipated benefits of that program, you are likely falling short in the areas of inclusion and equity. Focus on incorporating those elements into your workplace structure and you will create an environment that benefits your firm as a whole and each of your diverse array of employees.

[1] Martic, Kristina. “Top 10 Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace.” Talent Lyft, 19 Dec 2018 www.talentlyft.com/en/blog/article/244/top-10-benefits-of-diversity-in-the-workplace-infographic-included

[2] Myers, Vernā. Retrieved May 20, 2019 at https://learning.vernamyers.com/

[3] Sherbin, Laura and Rashid, Ripa. “Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion.” Harvard Business Review, 1 Feb 2017 hbr.org/2017/02/diversity-doesnt-stick-without-inclusion

[4] Smiley, Leah. “Equality vs Equity.” The Society for Diversity, 17 Jul 2017 www.societyfordiversity.org/equality-vs-equity/

How to Handle Mistakes at Work – Yours and Others’

Most of us have experienced that sick feeling in our guts when we’ve realized that we made a mistake at work. And not just a little mistake, but a mistake that is going to take some work to fix. A mistake that we worry will forever affect our credibility going forward. One that we think at best will blow over in a little while or we decide at worst will cause our peers and our clients to lose trust in our judgment.

 Certainly some mistakes are quite serious. Some are the consequence of extreme carelessness or ineptitude and the results can be career-ending. But those are not the mistakes we are talking about here. We want to address the vast majority of mistakes: honest errors that can eventually be rectified. The real impact of an honest mistake is largely determined by how it is handled in the aftermath – whether the mistake is yours or a team member’s.

 So, what should you do when a mistake is made?

 Maintain Perspective.  The first thing to do is to keep things in perspective. Perfection is often expected in professional settings, but no one is infallible. Unless you or your colleague made an error while charged with the safety of human life, e.g., as a pharmacist or a bus driver or a nuclear power plant manager, the mistake was not deadly and can probably be corrected.

·      If the mistake is an employee’s, don’t overreact. Don’t scream or lose your cool. Stoking fear is never the answer, especially if you hope to develop the employee and have them bounce back. “[Stoking fear is] counterproductive because humans don’t perform to their optimum level when the brain becomes preoccupied with fear and uncertainty,” says Don Rheem, a leadership expert and author of Thrive by Design: The Neuroscience that Drives High-Performance Cultures. [1]

 So, once you’ve taken a breath and put things in perspective, what next?

Take Responsibility, Apologize and Correct.  Don’t make excuses or allow an employee to make them either. Accurately assigning responsibility for the error to the correct party not only allows them to own it and move on, it helps pinpoint how the mistake happened so similar mistakes can be avoided in the future.

·      If the mistake is yours, acknowledge it, sincerely and concisely apologize for it, whether to a co-worker or a client, and go about fixing it. Many times the reaction to a mistake will be the key to how others view the mistake in the first place. Don’t add unnecessary drama to the situation. Take care of it and move on. If you seem to have things under control, you will retain the trust of your colleagues.

·      If the mistake is an employee’s, encourage them to take responsibility, apologize and correct as well. While in some instances you may need to apologize on behalf of your company or firm to a client, when possible you should allow the employee to do so directly. Giving the employee power over managing the aftermath of the mistake helps with accountability and fosters an environment of trust – i.e., if the employee feels that you trust them to make things right, they will be able to move forward productively without worrying about never-ending repercussions for their error.

Learn from the Mistake, Move On and Perform.  Once you’ve acknowledged the mistake and, when possible, corrected it, ask what can be learned from the mistake, let it go and move on. When you do move on, make sure you dependably generate stellar work product. A mistake once in a blue moon will likely be forgotten if it’s overshadowed by excellent performance 99% of the time.

·      If the mistake is an employee’s, allow them to move on and give them the tools to excel. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the mistake and check for similar errors in the near future if needed, but don’t hold the error over the employee’s head forever. Foster a culture in which everyone is encouraged to learn from their mistakes, and then sincerely allow employees to do so. If you isolate them or cut them off, employees will never be able to put their learnings into practice. Either you trust them with their work, or you don’t. Most employees will remain well aware of their prior mistake(s) and try earnestly to avoid them in the future.

As noted earlier, there are certainly some mistakes that are nearly impossible to correct, let alone rebound from. But most errors at the office are correctable and, when handled with the right perspective, become opportunities to lead, learn, promote accountability and improve performance.

[1] Quoted in AdWeek, (August 22, 2017) What to Do When an Employee Makes a Mistake. Retrieved at https://www.industryweek.com/leadership/what-do-when-employee-makes-mistake.