Mistakes law firms can avoid

April 22, 2012

Capital Business chatted with Georgetown law professor Mitt Regan and former Arnold & Porter managing partner James Jones, who helped develop the law school’s new executive education program for working lawyers. Here are common mistakes they see law firms make:

Overemphasis on compensation

Static business model.

Regan: “There may not be a single law firm model going forward. There was a dominant model up until the recession, with hourly billing using a large number of associates. Now, firms have an opportunity to be more creative.”

Clinging to traditional titles and paths of career development.

Regan: “A real challenge for law firms is recognizing there are multiple ways people contribute to the value of the law firm, it’s not just the number of hours you can bill or whether you’re a partner. There are people who do very good legal work but who [don’t have] partner potential because they’re not rainmakers. But doing that legal work can be very valuable.”

Jones: “I would have categories of lawyers and create career tracks other than just being a partner — attorneys who’d be hired without being on the partner track but who’d have prospects of permanent employment.”

Not enough training for young lawyers.

Jones: “In almost any firm, an associate has a much slimmer chance of becoming a partner than ever before. Their motivation has to be because they have confidence you’ll provide training and experience. We have to move toward training models you see in other businesses, where you ... manage their assignments process to make sure they have the right experiences. Some firms are setting up shadowing exercises — if a young associate hasn’t deposed an expert witness, and if someone in the firm is deposing, they allow the associate to go watch for two days.”

— Catherine Ho

Catherine Ho covers law and lobbying for the Capital Business section of The Washington Post. She previously worked at the LA Daily Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Detroit Free Press, the Wichita Eagle and the San Mateo County Times.
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