As we are approaching 2016, is your law firm encouraging your associates to create a career plan with goals? I asked the question because when I was the partner responsible for career development in my old firm, our firm made if more difficult.
The message our associates received was that achieving billable hours was the only thing that mattered. Some of our partners subtly, and not so subtly, made the point repeatedly.
Bonuses were set based on “billable hours.” I used a graph to show spikes of billable hours at the bonus levels. Our associates were congratulated more often for their billable hours than they were for the quality of their work.
Our firm laid off associates because they did not have enough “billable hours.” It wasn’t the associates fault. Their lack of hours occurred because the work in the practice group was slow, or because the partners needed to get their own billable hours.
I remember some partners in our firm discouraging associates from attending “training” and career development sessions because it took away from “billable hours.”
When associates returned to the office from a pro bono effort, community service or client development meeting, they were sometimes made to feel they were not carrying their share of the load. If they cut back on their billable hours in order to spend more time with their children or in the community, some were made to feel they were not committed to their work.
We had some really great mentors and some that were not interested. As a result some or our associates became disillusioned by the mentoring process. They anticipated their mentor would help them in career planning and they had high expectations when they selected their mentor, only to have those expectations dashed when the sole mentoring activity was lunch at the firm’s expense.
I remember one associate who with my help had developed a specific career plan. When she enthusiastically shared it with the partner for whom she worked, he put down her idea.
In 2015, is your law firm encouraging or discouraging your associates?