Professional Development Training for Lawyers is Suddenly All the Rage

December 13, 2012

Someone woke up yesterday and thought it might be a good idea to provide better professional development training for attorneys. Go figure.

Last week, I had the privilege of spending some time with the leadership of the Professional Development Consortium (PDC) at their annual meeting in Washington, DC. For the record, this organization has been looking to organize and improve PD in (mostly large) law firms since 1990. While the group is growing rapidly, the reality is that for a long time it has been a relatively small gathering of people dedicated to delivering PD for larger law firms. However, the idea that the need for stronger and better investments in PD for partners (and in some firms, gasp, associates too), is not new or news.PDC_logo.gif

With the ABA, I have had the opportunity to further professional development initiatives on multiple fronts. First, as a speaker and planning board member for the first two ABA New Partner Conferences, designed to provide a wide range of training--from business development and ethics to issues of diversity, electronic discovery, and managing legal relationships. Secondly, as the creator and chair of the ABA Law Firm Marketing Strategies Conference, founded in 2007, focusing on BD, marketing and overall rainmaking skill sets. Third, as a current ABA presidential appointee to the ABA Standing Committee on CLE--now entitled the ABA Center for Professional Development (go figure). Finally, as Editor in Chief of the ABA's Law Practice Today monthly webzine, we have joined forces with the PDC to provide a bi-monthly column (beginning in March 2013) from some of the country's leading PD professionals from the largest law firms, along with an entire themed issue dedicated to PD in May 2013. Thanks to PDC leadership, including Jennifer Bluestein of Greenberg Traurig and Jeanne Picht of Stites & Harbison, for helping to further develop this relationship. In addition, ABA LPM's sister publication, Law Practice, has an issue devoted to the topic as well in the coming months. In other words, the American Bar Association has long recognized the importance of PD and continues to provide numerous resources to lawyers and law firms interested in better training.

Recently, Claire Zillman of The American Lawyer, wrote about her publications' latest survey of new partners. The most significant finding she reported form the survey was that "new partners fear lack of training will hamper ability to win clients." The survey confirmed what many law firms know--that reaching partnership usually means you learned how to practice law pretty well, but nobody is talking to you about the need to develop your own book of business--until now! The survey results highlight the obvious. For decades, the concept of understanding the law biz outside of actually practicing law was considered an afterthought.

The incoming chancellor of my hometown bar, Kathleen Wilkinson of Wilson Elser, is touting the need for expansion of training and educational programs for the Philadelphia Bar Association, as one of her highlighted initiatives, according to Chris Mondics in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The story touts her plan to "institute a new speakers' series next year that will focus on bolstering young lawyers' skills in networking, business development, and other areas on the theory that many are not getting that guidance from their firms." In reality, especially at mid-size and larger law firms, this training needs to be as much a part of the internal curriculum as legal research and billing.

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to do numerous programs in conjunction with a law firms' PD professional or department, including introductory marketing training for summer and first year associates, rainmaking strategies for new partners, use of social media, ethics for everyone, and related areas of "the business of law." But the number of firms that do it seriously and do it right are small. Of course, this could mean I'm not being retained enough as a speaker, or firms are not doing it. Let's just call it a little of both. Either way, the concept and need for effective professional development in law firms is not news--but the changing marketplace, increasing competition and higher business acumen has once again brought the need to the forefront. PD is suddenly hot again, and just in time to grab an increase in the line item for your 2014 budget. Lawyers--young and not really young anymore--recognize that a lack of investment from the firm into an individuals' well-roundness as an owner or potential owner in the practice sends a message too.