How do junior partners make the transition to becoming successful contributors to the firm? They need to graduate from being primarily a worker bee into someone both clients and partners identify as a go-to person to solve specific problems. This kind of credibility is not bestowed upon a lawyer the day he or she becomes partner. And, as they say, "what got you here won't get you there."
As a trainer or professional development person, you are charged with helping newly minted partners make this transition. You've learned that while some lawyers only need a little guidance, others need a lot of support in developing new skills. You also know that not all lawyers need the same support, and consequently you have quite a few tools in your professional-development toolbox. Most importantly, you have learned that being a successful partner requires different skills than the lawyer demonstrated as an associate.
While you customize your approach to meet each lawyer's needs, you've learned that the following process yields the best results.
- Gather third-party information. Speak to the practice group chair and several more senior colleagues to get a picture of appropriate goals as well as the lawyer's strengths, blind spots, and opportunities. Tools: interviewing, listening for vision, opportunity, and gaps in skills or knowledge.
- Gather information from the lawyer. The lawyer completes a brief questionnaire to identify strengths, blind spots, and opportunities. Knowing that not everyone wants to complete the questionnaire, you sometimes have a brief conversation with the lawyer instead. The lawyer also takes a personality and problem-solving assessment (i) to help you understand how to best support the lawyer, (ii) to create a framework for the lawyer to understand his or her own strengths and blind spots, (iii) to understand colleagues and clients, and, importantly, (iv) to devise strategies that will meet the lawyer's particular needs and challenges. Tools: interviewing, listening, MBTI, and Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI).
- Identify gaps/set goals. Debrief the lawyer, identifying opportunities for improvement in areas such as communication, presentations and public speaking, leadership, personal branding, business development process, and networking. Set specific goals in each area. Tools: coaching and issue spotting.
- Create the plan. Create a tactical professional and business development plan, complete with weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks. If necessary, create the lawyer's brand; give a primer on how to deliver it. Lay out the business-development and reputation-building processes so the lawyer understands how to strike the balance between moving forward and pushing too hard. Provide guidance on where and how to network. Tools: insight, personal branding, business-development process, networking.
- Ongoing coaching. Regularly follow up to keep the lawyer focused and making progress. Tools: coaching, persistence.
It's the beginning of a new year, and you've been asked to work with Pat, a new junior partner.
Meet Pat. Pat became a partner in January and knows it's time to develop business. Pat's practice area is employment law, with a focus on structuring executive compensation, dealing with whistle blowers, and litigation. Pat is diligent, thoughtful, and reserved.
You begin the process by talking with Pat, the practice group chair, and several more senior colleagues to get a clearer picture of Pat's strengths, blind spots, and opportunities. Pat inspires great confidence in some, and not in others. Another theme that emerges is that Pat's serious manner can be perceived negatively as "aloof." You are determined to get to the bottom of this and are confident that the assessment tools will yield insight that will help Pat relate better to others.
Pat thoroughly completes the questionnaire and takes the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the problem-solving assessment—the KAI. Not surprisingly, Pat is an Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judger (ISTJ) with a more Adaptive problem-solving style, which means Pat solves problems by digging into details and following a rigidly structured analysis and process. Since people who are more Adaptive prefer to problem solve within a defined structure, you now know that Pat will be more confident and successful with a very thorough and detailed plan.
Next, you focus on Pat's ability to inspire confidence, which is part of a larger communication issue. Pat hates small talk, and just about everything is small talk. That said, clients and partners appreciate and even enjoy working with Pat, whom they experience as clever, tenacious, creative, and having a dry sense of humor. You hire an external coach who specializes in using these assessments to improve communication, networking, and building relationships. You're confident that Pat, who's already shown an interest in the assessments, will leverage the frameworks for understanding others' behavior and communication. In particular, you hope that Pat will understand how others could perceive Pat's very serious and detailed approach to everything as nitpicking and hypercritical.
At the same time, you and Pat work on a reputation and business development plan. Like many new partners, you notice that Pat is nervous about meeting expectations to develop business. You know that Pat won't be able to focus until you and the practice group chair set reasonable expectations. You remind Pat that this is a multiyear process and, in these early years, what's very important is building a reputation as a highly-skilled expert.
Expectations managed, you begin with creating an authentic personal brand and then move onto the plan. You've found that working with lawyers at a large whiteboard with an assistant taking notes is the most effective, time efficient way of collecting information and pulling together a cohesive plan. You also know that you'll have to help Pat prepare for networking events, including making small talk, talking about employment law (brand delivery), and developing a couple of personal "news stories" to answer the inevitable "what have you been up to?" questions. Brand delivery is particularly important because every lawyer needs to be able to articulate what the lawyer does in an interesting manner that invites follow-up questions and lays the foundation for building a relationship.
In addition to more general networking events, a cornerstone of Pat's business development plan is presenting on executive compensation, whistle-blower problems, and employment issues, generally to partners in the firm's other offices as well as the community at large. After practicing internally, Pat will take the presentation on the road, delivering it to bars, industry meetings, and general counsels and human resource executives at clients and prospective clients. The firm's director of marketing is an excellent presentation coach and has agreed to help.
Just about every lawyer you've worked with has benefited from regular follow up. It's no surprise—they are busy with client work and business development doesn't feel as urgent. Every two weeks you meet with Pat to give guidance, anticipate challenges, help take advantage of opportunities, and generally keep on track. On the weeks that Pat says, "I'm too busy," or "I'm not prepared," you check in for five minutes, knowing that skipping one meeting turns into missing two, three, and then completely losing momentum.
A year later Pat is more confident—even remembers to smile at networking events and when presenting and knows how to engage others in the most interesting aspects of employment law. Pat's partners have made introductions to clients, to whom Pat has made presentations and by whom Pat has been asked to work on a few small projects. Pat's also on the short list for a number of prospective clients and will likely be hired by one in the next few weeks. You still follow up regularly, but it's more to hear about Pat's accomplishments than to prod. The coaching process has been a success.
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