• The Business Case for Associate Development Top Reasons to Invest in Associates
  • May 1, 2018 | Authors: Kristin Aquino-Pham; Theodore I. Blum
  • Law Firm: Greenberg Traurig, LLP - Atlanta Office
  • Most law firm associates aspire to the title of partner or shareholder and view their role as a stepping stone. What some might not realize, however, is that the associate position offers unlimited possibilities for growth and success. A firm that develops an associate’s skills, connections and experiences demonstrates a commitment to investing in that potential. Greenberg Traurig and other firms understand that, simply put, it makes good business sense to invest in associates. Here’s why:

    1. Satisfied associates market the firm more effectively to clients and potential clients.
    Law firms benefit from having associates who are eager to share their job satisfaction on social media and with their personal networks. Firms typically spend substantial dollars on marketing and recruiting; however, positive testimonials about the firm, from the mouths of happy associates, are free. Furthermore, satisfied associates are more likely to try to develop business for the benefit of the firm. They believe in the product they’re selling and feel confident the rewards of business development will flow to them.
    Make it happen: Use anonymous surveys to gauge associates’ satisfaction. Use key take-aways to create and implement programs and opportunities for associate advancement.
    2. Empowered associates are more inclined to think of creative business development and practice improvement strategies.
    The traditional law firm model is to have a percentage of partners or shareholders develop business while the rest of the lawyers churn out the work. While it is absolutely necessary for new lawyers to master their craft, today’s competitive market doesn’t mesh with the outdated “20 percent feeds 80 percent” model. Attorneys at all levels in the firm, associates included, should be engaged—in some way—in showcasing the firm’s services. An effective way to encourage associates to engage in business development is to assure them the firm has their backs. Associates who go into the community knowing their firm is behind them will be more willing to seize opportunities that may have intimidated them before. Firms should assist associates in obtaining leadership positions in service organizations, speaking engagements and chances to interact with potential clients. These opportunities can lead to positive exposure, not only for the individual but for the firm as a whole.
    Associates who feel their firm supports them also have enough confidence to innovate. As modern law is increasingly focused on saving time and money for its clients, innovation and the use of technology is crucial to success. Associates are usually the troops on the ground and, therefore, in the ideal position to innovate process improvements. The efficiencies they create can lead to better results for clients and an overall healthier, more productive firm-client relationship.
    Make It Happen: Offer associate-focused business development trainings. Give associates a “seat at the table,” literally, by including them in firm-sponsored events, client meetings, and pitches. Encourage partners and practice group leaders to seek strategic input from associates.
    3. When associates feel valued, they take interest in uplifting their peers and the firm as a whole.
    Although the practice of law tends to attract competitive types, law firms should value and encourage their attorneys to work in productive teams. A collaborative, collegial community of associates is especially important because associates who know and trust each other will be more inclined to cross-sell and develop business internally. Developing this foundation of cooperation will continue to pay dividends for the firm and its clients as associates grow in their careers.
    Make it happen: Provide your associates with opportunities to get to know one another, including happy hours, group trainings and retreats. Showcase associates and their achievements through firm newsletters and social media outlets.
    4. Associates who feel self-assured are more willing to assume leadership roles within the firm.
    Most large firms have committees on which associates can sit, or even full-fledged associate committees. However, the burden of developing associate-focused programming often is left in the hands of managing partners whose plates are already full with day-to-day management of the office and their own hefty workloads. Imagine a world where the associates themselves step up and take ownership of programming. The programs would be more effective because they would be peer-led, created for associates by associates; and associates would be more engaged in the programs because they invested their own time and energy into building them.
    Make it happen: Encourage associates to form committees or affinity groups so they can work together to develop meaningful associate programming—and show support for them when they do. Recognize and nurture associates who demonstrate leadership potential.
    5. Empowered, self-confident associates are better lawyers.
    Above all else, associates—especially junior and midlevel associates—should be focused on honing their lawyering skills. But truly honing those skills doesn’t just mean doing the same grunt work over and over again. Rather, firms should find ways to include associates in challenging, substantive experiences that force them to maximize their capabilities. In rising to meet these challenges, they will become more knowledgeable; and as they become more knowledgeable, their self-confidence will grow. Associates who are confident about what they know, and aware of what they don’t know, exercise better judgment. They are the lawyers that partners can trust with their most precious client relationships.
    Make It Happen: Provide a diverse array of CLEs and practical training sessions to associates. Devise and implement a strong mentoring program, one in which the partners also are invested and engaged. Create practice development initiatives tailored to associates. Have your partners commit to involving associates in as many client-facing experiences as possible: conference calls, client meetings, pitches, depositions, hearings, etc.
    The associate development strategies discussed here require an “all-in” attitude from law firm leadership and partners. The investment in associates will build excellence, deepen a firm’s bench, and provide expanded opportunities for the firm as a whole. This provides opportunities to make good firms great, and great firms even greater as they look to the future.