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Business development training programs for lawyers that work

March 29, 2008

Part Two 

I first blogged on this topic in December. Today I will continue where I left off and provide my top ten list of steps for launching a successful associate marketing and business development training program:

  1. Segment your training to target lawyers of a particular year of call, or practice area, so that the curriculum content is appropriate to their skill and knowledge level and can be put into immediate practice.
  2. Conduct strength assessments with the associates taking part in the training program.  These assessments provide a measure of where they are starting from, help frame the business development process, and serve as a point of departure for developing their personal business plans.
  3. Launch the training program with a Mindset component.  Mindset means aligning the business development approach to the strengths and values of the participants, framing business development in the context of career success, and clearing up any misconceptions about what business development is all about.
  4. In keeping with the active learning emphasis, hold monthly meetings, with actionable homework and feedback components. 
  5. Connect the content of the monthly training sessions to each associate’s goals and business plan. 
  6. Use the training program and homework items to support associates in developing the habit of integrating regular business development activities into their weekly schedule.
  7. Track results.
  8. Small groups provide the opportunity for discussion.  Each training component is followed by an action item.  For example, after the networking session the associates each attend a networking event.  Following the event they prepare a brief memo on what worked, what didn’t, what contacts they made, how they will follow-up.  At the next training session the first minutes of the class are then spent reviewing the group members’ experience of the networking event.
  9. Integrate partner experiences into the program through holding partner panels, or collecting business development stories from the partners for inclusion in the training sessions. 
  10. Integrate client experiences into the program through holding client panels, sharing client survey results, or by creating opportunities for the participants to speak with clients of the firm. 

Just like learning to improve a golf stoke, lawyers can best develop business development skills through putting knowledge into practice and receiving feedback on performance.  Training programs require more than just the seminar component.  They require action assignments and the opportunity to debrief with colleagues and a coach or mentor after the event.

Developing a successful business development training program takes time and effort, but the rewards are substantial:

¢ A training program with measurable ROI
¢ A  team of lawyers who all business develop
¢ Increased retention of associates

Done right, programs that teach the participants new business development skills, encourage new behaviours and have measurable goals and results will have a fundamental impact on profitability and retention.

For further reading on this topic don’t miss the Hildebrant Article: Masterclass: Adopting A Business-Development Attitude: A Shared Responsibility

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Lawyer training programs that work

December 19, 2007

I have two questions for my readers:  How many training seminars have you attended that were fundamentally a waste of time?  How often have you attended a business development or marketing training session where you actually learned something that you then put into practice?

Learning is achieved most often through our mistakes.  As a young legal marketer working in-house I organized countless lunch and learn seminars for lawyers on topics ranging from networking, to business development, to how to give an effective presentation.  Most often these seminars resulted only in an “in one ear, out the other” experience for the attendees.  I learned.  It takes more than an hour long presentation over lunch to teach new skills and behaviours.

What does it take to get training that works?  Listening, learning, putting learning into action, and feedback.  Training programs require more than just the seminar component.  They require action assignments and the opportunity to debrief with colleagues and a coach or mentor after the event. 

The LMA International recently hosted a Webinar on business development for associates with the US legal marketing group Ingenuity Marketing.  They concluded that training programs should involve small groups of associates who work together for a minimum period of 12 months.  Here’s their recommendation for the best set-up for a training program:

¢ Monthly meetings for at least 12 months
¢ Reporting on results each month
¢ StrengthsFinder Assessments
¢ Fairly well-organized curriculum but open to
group needs
¢ Group bonding time
¢ Track results

I would add that is important to frame the meetings around a monthly seminar/reading component, followed by individual or group assignments and reporting. 

The difficulty is that these kinds of programs take time and effort to set up, but the rewards are substantial:

  • A training program with measurable ROI
  • Generation of a team of lawyers who all business develop
  • Associates appreciate genuine training opportunities

There is in fact some urgency now to getting training right.  In the Hildebrandt report Why Associates Leave one of the number one reasons associates leave law firms is because of the lack of training and mentorship programs:

Too many associates cite the lack of formal and informal training, mentoring, and development programs available within law firms. Over the last 10 years this has been the single most common factor cited by departing associates, yet few law firms respond with meaningful programs. Many increase their budgets for outside CLE or offer additional seminars, but continue to hear ongoing complaints about insufficient training and development. The absence of effective training, mentoring, and development not only limits an associate’s substantive and professional growth, but also inhibits the associate from forming a longer-term relationship with the firm.

This report is a real call to action to law firms to take the time and make the investment in training programs that succeed.  Programs that teach the participants new skills, encourage new behaviours and have measurable goals and results.

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Recruiting and retaining the new generation of lawyers

October 22, 2007

I was attending a marketing event last week and we all got to talking about the reaction of the old guard to the new generation of lawyers entering law firms today.  One of the attendees Dorothy Sitek shared one take on the generation gap that she in turn picked up from a presentation by business coach Karen Elliot:

These professionals entering the work force today are your children.  You were the ones who raised them.  And how did you raise them?  You raised them to contribute to the conversation at the dinner table.  You raised them to have an opinion, and to know how to express it.  You raised them to be confident and to value themselves.

What are these new associates looking for?  More then anything mentorship, training, and a place where they can contribute and where they feel valued.

Our law firms haven’t traditionally been great at these things.  So as Blane Prescott of Hildebrand writes, if you really want to invest in associate retention at your law firm the first place to invest is in training your partners to be good mentors. And the second is in investing in training programs and coaching for your associates to give them the support that they value.

My view is that money becomes the bottom line for associates only when other needs are not being met.  More than anything these new associates are looking for a place to put down roots and build a practice.  The important question this raises for senior partners out to bring in talented new recruits:  “Does your law firm provide fertile ground for growing a practice? “

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