As you know, I taught, mentored, and coached law firm associates in my own firm and when I left the firm to coach lawyers. Now that I am recruiting lawyers, I’ve placed only one associate and the firm which hired him only did so because he worked for the partner I placed.
Firms do not encourage associates to learn about client development. Why? Maybe because they believe a successful associate might leave the firm. Maybe because they believe an associate can’t possibly attract the kind of clients the firm desires.
Whatever the reason, I believe law firms make a mistake by not providing top notch career and client development training. Here are 6 reasons associates need to learn those skills.
- Law schools brag that students are taught to “think like a lawyer.” Unfortunately students are not taught to “think like a client.” As a result, young lawyers do not appreciate the business context of their legal work.
- Law students are taught “the law,” but not taught how to to be a lawyer who helps clients.
- Law students are taught to speak and write, but not taught to ask good questions and actively listen.
- In law school, establishing goals is easy. Most law students want to finish near the top of their class, pass the bar and get a good job. As associates, setting goals is more complicated because the potential choices are infinite. So, most associates do not have a plan for their career or for client development. Many who do have a plan do not have the discipline or commitment necessary to stay with it during “dips.”
- In many firms associates are told to do great work and not worry about client development. Yet, in those same firms, the path to partnership generally includes the associate’s potential to develop business, or in some cases their actual success developing business.
- The learning curve for developing business and expanding relationships with clients is the about the same no matter when the learning begins. Associates who begin learning about client development early in their careers are better prepared to be valuable partners.