Making Better Associates Faster

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Associates want more than money. They want some recognition—not much, but some—and they want to feel like they have a future. A big part of this sense of future is feeling like their firm is investing in them. Law firms can take immediate steps to make the future more obvious and brighter.

Ask associates to make decisions before you think they are ready

Not the biggest decisions, but just ahead of where you think their knowledge and experience are. Put these associates in a position to chase instead of following their performance. The associates who will grow into leaders want the opportunity to strut their stuff and be challenged.

Their ability to make the right decision is an intangible benefit providing confidence and increased job satisfaction. They may be wrong in their decisions, but they will learn faster by making their mistakes in a protected environment. Be ready to coach and explain why they might have made a wrong decision in time to make it right.

Find a reason to bring associates to clients

The best associates thrive on client air. Nothing compares to observing clients, interacting with clients, and seeing how different things can be with a client present. Your associates can observe partner behaviors and discussions, and gain insight into the art of client management and how to talk to clients. Associates will also be better able to support partners as they hone their knowledge of what partners need.

Ask your best clients if you can bring associates to meetings to learn and observe

Most clients welcome this opportunity. They enjoy mentoring and influencing an associate’s career. This gesture shows clients how client-focused you are as you teach associates what clients think. If you are skilled and/or lucky, your client will invest in your associate’s success.

Give your top associate a specific role in client meetings

Then, immediately give them detailed coaching on how to play this role. This includes practice sessions before you go to the client meeting. Don’t go easy—practice the difficult questions as well as the softballs.

Ask your associates to research one major client in depth to find new information and insights

Understanding a client’s business is one of the biggest law firm differentiators in the market. The best associates crave information about the client for whom they perform work. This adds up to a high-power opportunity for associates and law firms. Ask an associate to perform business research on a key client where they bill time. Ask them to look beyond immediate headlines and find product plans, growth plans, M&A history, and business challenges.

Ask these associates to use all firm resources but insist they synthesize the data into usable analysis, and bullet points. Ask for partner-ready summaries which relationship managers can use to discuss things with clients. Associates love the responsibility to make an impact and partners get help in developing high-value client conversations.

Train, train, train, and train

Few things say I’m investing in your future like training. Training goes well beyond teaching associates new and useful skills…it drives culture. Associates adopt the values the training supports. Start training in client service and watch associates embrace the importance of client service. Train them every year and they will believe it is increasingly important in everything you do.

We recommend developing and delivering associate training in 4 key areas:

  • Client service—a core component of any client-facing business. You can’t train anyone early enough nor hone their skills enough. This associate training will also improve partner support and productivity—as associates use newly acquired client skills with partners.

  • Business development—a proven tool to draw out the associates with interest and potential talent in business development. Use this training to introduce business development and bring it into the firm’s culture early. This will make business development a more natural and effective process when the associates reach partner.

  • Social media—your associates are already using it. Leverage their natural inclination to incorporate social media into their professional success. The art of social media for business can be taught and is effective for making new contacts and clients.

  • Networking—always talked about but rarely taught. Teaching associates when, where, and how to network is giving them fuel for their careers and business development.

Associates are more valuable than ever—and continue to increase in value. Law firms are working harder to keep them—and keep them longer. These steps turn associates into better attorneys, makes them feel more invested in the firm, and helps define their clear contribution to the firm besides their billable hours. This is your opportunity to make your associates better and keep them around a lot longer.

MBR