Helping lawyers to help themselves

The success of any firm lies in the quality of its people and the service they provide. Firms have been quick to recognise that investing in their people will yield greater rates of return and they increasingly seek new and innovative ways to support and develop their legal staff.

However, it is important to remember that career management is a two-way process; these initiatives are designed to complement and enhance lawyers’ active management of their own careers.

To help encourage lawyers to take greater ownership of their careers, my role as an in-house career development manager was created to provide ongoing support to associates during their first three years after qualification. The role is very deliberately outside the normal ‘line management’ hierarchy, enabling me to provide impartial advice and guidance to associates.

I meet associates individually once every six months. The meetings are informal and confidential and I aim to strike a balance between nurture and challenge. The associates are encouraged to explore their ideas and strategies for setting and achieving new goals so that their careers are continually moving forward. It is useful for associates to identify who within the firm they can use to help them achieve their goals – whether it be gaining access to new types of work from partners, seeking guidance from more senior colleagues or delegating to trainees.

The lawyers I work with look to the firm to provide specific development programmes at every stage of their careers. As well as the essential technical skills every lawyer needs, I help them to identify and develop the strengths and interests that will enable them to ‘stand out from the crowd’. We might also discuss potential obstacles to achieving their goals and how they can develop the skills and personal qualities to overcome them.

Clients require law firms to provide a cohesive service across disciplines and to communicate effectively internally. I encourage associates to explore how they might build and maintain a network of contacts across the firm, either through working together or through firmwide social and sporting activities. This not only enhances the firm’s service to clients, but also promotes integration within the firm and helps to make it an attractive and welcoming place to work.

Lawyers expect firms to invest heavily in their training and we have put in place a training programme and ‘know-how’ system that helps them to benefit from the experience of others. The ‘Best Lawyer’s Profile’ framework includes specific guidance on the activities, skills and legal technical knowledge lawyers need to pursue, display and master to perform at the optimum level.

The creation of my role forms one element in the wider strategy of enhancing the morale, motivation and development of lawyers at every stage of their careers. Within Berwin Leighton Paisner, for example, we have created a bespoke LPC course for trainees, introduced an associate director role as a new alternative to partnership and promoted a mentoring scheme for senior associates. But as well as the tools and processes, getting the right culture is also essential. Partners and senior associates should take an active interest in junior associates’ development.

Ultimately, if we want to create the energised, motivated lawyers of the future that our clients need, we must not only attract the best people to the industry and provide them with innovative, cutting-edge training opportunities, we also have to get them to play an active part in their own success. The question is whether across the industry we are doing enough to support young lawyers in developing this approach.