Teaching old partners new tricks

Continuing professional development is essential at all levels within an organisation. At the top there are few born leaders. There are even fewer people who become leaders who could not improve further with the right coaching and development.

Law firms internationally face a major challenge in recruiting and retaining the best talent. Providing a top-quality executive education programme offers a valuable source of differentiation within the market. Trainees and associates are attracted to the prospect of the kind of training that relatively few firms are able to provide. Clients also stand to gain from the commercial understanding and skills that such programmes develop in the senior lawyers that work with them.

However, putting an executive programme in place is not easy, particularly when margins and profitability are under increasing pressure. Rising training costs can appear as an unwelcome intrusion in the short term that masks the real value of the investment.

After several years of expansion it had become clear that the CMS alliance had both the scale and depth to warrant establishing a dedicated programme. In March 2006 we established the CMS Academy with Lausannebased business school the International Institute for Management Development. By the end of this year the academy will have trained more then 300 people and there is a programme already planned for 2008.

We are not unique in having an executive programme, but I believe that firms have an important decision to make when deciding where to base, and how to focus, their programmes. CMS is rooted firmly in Europe. Other firms that are large enough to be able to offer this kind of training tend to gravitate towards US business schools for their executive programmes. We, however, wanted a European approach, one that matches more closely the demands and attitudes of the majority of our clients. Equally, the predominantly UK-centric approach found at other top business schools would not offer the perspective we required.

Like many such programmes, the academy provides skills training in a range of areas where lawyers have traditionally not paid sufficient attention. Leadership, business development and presentation and networking skills need to be found and developed throughout a modern firm. A competitive market demands it. The academy also offers international secondment workshops, training specifically tailored for the needs of new partners and distance learning via regular interactive webcasts.

A primary goal for CMS is to bring the practices of our member firms to the point where we think and act – and are perceived externally – as a single organisation. It is not just about the way we act for clients, it is also about common approaches to account management, client feedback and client service. For CMS to compete in a global market it must be able to offer international clients a consistent experience at whatever point the client accesses the organisation. The same challenge faces all firms with offices in multiple jurisdictions.

A critical piece in the management jigsaw is therefore to create a unifying culture and common approach towards client needs that bind an organisation together. The academy, therefore, is targeted at helping to develop and spread that culture within CMS. Alongside the academy’s main educational purpose there is also value in having people come together from all over Europe to train, network, share legal and management expertise and get to know each other in a business and social context.

Establishing an extensive executive education programme is a major investment for any firm to make. Getting it wrong is costly in more than purely financial terms. Getting it right, though, can be a real driver for collaboration, shared values and growth throughout an organisation.