Dramatically changing customer demands and expectations, the competitive legal market and the Generation Y associates all push law firms to reinvent strategies on how to provide sustainable high quality service to Clients meanwhile attracting and keeping the best talents. Some pioneer legal service providers have already started the implementation of new initiatives aiming the adjustment of in-house training programs focusing on business, management and leadership skills, rather than solely concentrating on black letter law.

Recent Challenges

Simply being superb specialist is not good enough anymore on the legal market, top tier legal service providers must have a good sense of business intelligence, obtain effective management and true leadership skills. Besides legal expertise Clients increasingly demanding ‘value-added’ services from their lawyers who are not only specialists at their legal field, but have a deep understanding of their business operations and needs, as well as the necessities of the surrounding business environment.

Associates are often confronted with queries regarding the business rationale of a legal matter. For instance a true legal service provider cannot guide its Client through the labyrinth of a transaction unless having a clever understanding of the economic and business side of the transaction. The good old times are gone, when – by using lengthy and super-complicated disclaimers – lawyers could easily ‘carve-out’ every aspect of a deal that was not strictly related to legal issues. Nowadays the first question of a deal in the course of legal structuring is always the question whether the transaction is needed at all, and if so, what business form would best suit the interests of the Client. Legal service providers and financial advisers are going hand-in-hand. In order associates to be well-prepared for such challenges, they have to dive deep into the details and context of the relevant market, the Client’s corporate culture, its cash flows, pricing equations and calculations, etc.

Modern legal service providers have to transform from classic old-school lawyers to multi-talented businesswomen and businessmen with sharp and reliable legal background. And fresh graduates could not be further from being business minded when leaving law school.

Law schools do not adequately prepare students for practical life, and fresh graduates often confronted with hardly manageable tasks at the dawn of their carrier. Thus there is an increasing trend that young talents demand an environment where they can focus on developing practical knowledge and marketable skills. Today’s law school graduates care just as much about training, education and mentoring than about salary when they choose their first workplace. They value challenging assignments early on, and instead of being locked-up in an ivory tower of research-intensive back-office work in their trainee years, they prefer working directly with clients and senior associates.

Law firms are better investing time and effort to prepare their young attorneys to be capable and effective in Client work as fast as possible, while still learning the basics of the profession. Young talents often have to understand business before becoming sector specific legal experts. One way to do this is by offering comprehensive in-house development programs.

The Way Forward

L&D programs with innovative focus have multiple abilities to simultaneously attract most talented graduates, to increase level of job satisfaction of all fee earners and to keep fee earners engaged and motivated. L&D programs convey the message internally that fee earners do matter to the firm, and that the firm is ready to invest in them, whereas externally, well-functioning and visible L&D programs may build reputation, brand and can remind Clients that the legal service provider is dedicated to “Quality.” As a result L&D programs too may serve as a tool in increasing Client engagement and profitability.

For the above reasons, forward-looking legal service providers have recently started to redesign their learning and development programs in order to meet both Client demands and to attract the best talents. As a result, some law firms started to incorporate MBA-style business training in their development program and teach junior lawyers financial and accounting subjects, including how to read balance sheets and analyze financial statements. As a result, junior associates may gain useful tools to understand the Client needs not only from a legal point of view, but also from business, marketing, communication and finance standpoints.

Specialized in-house L&D programs may also target specific legal practice areas, preparing junior associates for real field work before throwing them to deep waters. For instance staging a mock M&A deal for transaction lawyers would do for this purpose. Furthermore, there is also an increasing focus on developing the soft skills like communication, networking, business development, assertiveness, presentation as well as improving the emotional intelligence of lawyers. All of these would clearly add some extra, added value that is sought by Clients and therefore being often the decisive point when Clients chose legal service provider.

According to the latest market trends, it seems that the target of L&D programs is not anymore limited to juniors. Innovative legal service providers tend to realize that personalized, individual development programs are indeed serve as an attractive value proposition to senior associates. These programs may offer continuous, tailor-made trainings to fee earners as they climb higher up on the ladder of hierarchy.

As a conclusion, nowadays, when it comes to professional development, the question of “what happens if you invest in people who eventually leave the firm” seems less and less the relevant. The real danger is rather “what future awaits if you fail to invest in the development of your lawyers and they stay“.