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Law Students to benefit from Ford & Harrison's Revolutionary "Year One" Program

published November 12, 2007

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( 47 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
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The gap between what law schools teach and what practice requires looms large, and our clients — more accurately, our clients' general counsel — are on to it. To make matters more complicated, the talent pool of Generation Y, the Millennials, and beyond is demanding dedicated mentors, frequent feedback, and, at the same time, immediate, significant responsibility. The billable-hour and escalating hourly rates, however, provide very little incentive for busy partners to devote their time to teaching and mentoring new associates, and all too often the scope and variety of associate work assignments is dictated by the client's willingness to pay.

The Ford & Harrison "Year One" Associate Development Program is one firm's attempt to address this growing problem. "Year One" is an on-the-job training program for a new generation of lawyers — training through mentoring, firsthand work experience, and frequent client contact. To many members of the legal profession, the most striking aspect of "Year One" is that beginning associates do not have a traditional minimum billable- or billed-hours requirement for their first 15 months of employment. Instead, partners assign work based on the educational value of experience and are encouraged to include associates in the complete evolution of matters. Whether the associate's time can be billed to the client is a secondary consideration.

New lawyers will be immersed in all aspects of practice, learning through hands-on work assignments and direct observation. Non-billed clinical hours will also give associates opportunities to meet clients, learn about their businesses and industries, and gain the confidence of general counsel in person before appearing on clients' bills as faceless time entries.

In addition to clinical hours, "Year One" associates will complete a classroom curriculum including an approved independent self-study research project focusing on a particular legal issue or industry relevant to Ford & Harrison's labor and employment practice. "Year One" associates will be similar to surgical residents who continue to study and work long shifts but also have the opportunity to "scrub in" and learn hands-on from some of the most highly skilled members of their profession.

The initial cost of a program like this is substantial. In the short term, the firm faces rising first-year salaries and lost first-year revenue production. Additionally, Ford & Harrison is investing in an administrative infrastructure to support associate development and asking its partners to devote their time and incorporate mentoring into their day-to-day practice.

All of this may lead some to ask how the firm can afford to offer such a program. How can we afford not to? The potential long-term benefits are immense. Clients will benefit from a cadre of highly skilled associates capable of assuming greater responsibility for cases. Associates will be able to handle more challenging and more complicated work earlier in their careers, and as a result, they will be more satisfied with their legal careers. The firm will benefit from the increased retention and loyalty of talented associates.

Ford & Harrison is the first law firm in the United States to implement a training program of this kind and scope, but law firms nationwide are experimenting with new approaches to talent development. Faced with a complicated problem, good lawyers are, after all, creative problem solvers. Many firms are investing in attorney professional development through formal mentoring programs and associate training curricula, and some are experimenting with reduced billable-hours requirements.

There is no single solution, but going forward, mentoring and on-the-job training will continue to be at the heart of talent development in law firms.

Margaret F. Holman, Esq., is the director of professional development at Ford & Harrison, LLP, a national labor and employment law firm.

published November 12, 2007

( 47 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.