Training New Associates: Tips for Creating an Associate Development Program

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on August 19, 2016 1:03 PM

You've brought some fresh blood into your firm. But if your new associate is new to the law, they come to you not-fully-formed. What are you supposed to do with this unshapen lump of lawerly potential? Mold it, of course! And that takes training.

If you're looking to set up an associate development program (and if you have fresh associates, you really need a training system) here are some ways to get it done.

Training New Talent

When you first set up your training program, start with the basics. Ask yourself, what kind of qualities do you look for in someone you consider "partner material." Then work backwards from there. What skills do your associates need to develop those qualities? What sort of training and experiences do they need to get those skills?

Once you've figured that out, then comes the actual associate development. There's no one single way to go about this. Some firms bring in external consultants, some rely on formalized in-house programs, some just think things will happen on their own. (The latter is a mistake, if you ask us. If you want to develop and retain talent, you'll want to take an active role in their professional advancement.)

When it comes to doing the actual work of training, you have lots of options. There are, of course, tons of companies out there who can offer CLE trainings, from free online programs, to CLE-in-a-box options, to fancy conferences with legal experts. There are also training and experience opportunities with various legal associations. A pro bono partnership with a local group, for example, can be a valuable learning opportunity for new lawyers, as well as a way to make them feel valued about their work.

Formalized mentorships are also an option. These can help new lawyers learn some of the skills you can't get from a CLE, like how to develop leads or market themselves to clients.

Beware Pigeonholing Your New Attorneys

A word of caution, though. Avoid training your new attorneys into a corner by having them specialize too soon. Having associates work on a wide variety of matters can be trying, for both them and you, but it's important for their development. As Bruce Stachenfeld writes in Above the Law:

[W] hat happens after about a year or so is that the associate's brain becomes battle-hardened and forged into what we all want; namely, an attorney who, when presented with something new and different, responds something like: "Never seen it before but, no worries, I'll figure it out." I call this being intellectually fearless.

Looking to hire a new associate? Post the job for free on Indeed, or search local candidate resumes.

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