professional development

The Geek In Review – Episode 18 is ready just in time for your Thanksgiving travel enjoyment. Don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes or Google (or where ever you listen to your podcasts) so that you automatically get the latest episodes. Comments can be sent to @glambert or @gebauerm. Also, if you like our new theme music, check out Jerry David DeCicca’s new album on Spotify, or iTunes,

Nicholas Alexiou, Director of LL.M and Alumni Advising at Vanderbilt University Law School joins us for an in-depth discussion of what law schools are teaching students in the three years they have them. In an environment where students only care about things which are on the final, or on the bar exam, should professional development programs be required or affect GPA’s? While 1Ls and 2Ls get lots of attention from the professional development course, 3Ls are left to their own devices. Greg thinks there is room for improvement with 3Ls professional development from the law schools, law firms, and vendors.

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Marlene points out an MIT answer to “What is AI?” Sometimes a complicated concept can be explained on a napkin with a flowchart. This explanation is so simple, even Marlene’s Mom can understand it. Now, if MIT would come up with a flowchart to explain to Greg’s Mom what it is he actually does with a law degree and a masters degree in Library Science.  Continue Reading E18 – Nicholas Alexiou – Professional Development Needs for Law Students

We’ve all probably heard some variation of the following two business quotes:

Prepare your staff so they can leave and go anywhere… treat them well enough so they don’t want to leave.

Q: What if I train them, and they leave?
A: What if you don’t train them and they stay?

I thought about both of these a couple weeks ago when I had to go in and justify my budget for 2018. One of the first questions that came up was why my professional development budget was (percentage-wise) so much larger than other departments. I responded with a variation of the two quotes listed above. Professional development is one of the most important benefits I think a department can offer. It is especially important when the department has a variety of legal topics which it must research and master.

When interviewing candidates for research positions, I stress the importance of professional development, and sell that as a reason to come work for me. When I do annual reviews of employees, professional development for the upcoming year is always included in the discussion, and we toss ideas back and forth on what is important to the individual employee to learn, as well as what the different practice areas and industry practices need us to know. When I need to cut budgets, professional development is the last place I look, not the first. And, when employees decide it is time to move on in their careers, I want them to stress to potential employers that professional development support is one of the factors they are looking when making the decision to come work for them.

Most law firms do not lack from training and professional development opportunities. We have arrangements and subscriptions from the local and state bar associations. Subscriptions and memberships to the American Bar Association, and other professional associations such as the American Association of Law Libraries, ILTA, the Legal Marketing Association, professional industry associations, and subscriptions to online, on-demand, and in-person classes through publishers and professional development companies, such as West LegalEdCenter, ARK or PLI. Some of these are unlimited subscriptions to any of the offered courses. The key to making the most of these training opportunities is stressing the importance of professional development to those in the department, and providing them the time and resources needed to attend the courses.

I’m also a big believer in letting people attend these courses and educational conferences in person. It costs more, but there are direct and indirect benefits from actually sitting in a room with others that make up for those costs. It shows the importance you place on professional development. It shows the trust you have in that person to be away from the office, hopefully in a place that is fun to visit, and that you see and treat them as a professional. It gives them an opportunity to meet others who have similar interests, and potentially build a professional peer group to reach out to after the courses or conferences are over. When professional development is organized correctly, it is a win for everyone in the organization.

What started as a modest group of pricing people 2 years ago (I believe it was five of us) has grown now to about 200 people. The group is now comprised of pricing and project management people with a wide variety of titles and roles. Some in the group are strictly in these roles. Others have dual roles, such as CFO and pricing.

When we started this group we outlined three primary goals. #1 is professional development. Most programs on pricing, alternative fees or project management are basic and directed at just getting people to embrace the ideas (and are usually taught by people from this group). So finding opportunities to extend our own knowledge is quite limited. The second goal is developing a knowledge-base of best practices. And the third goal is driving the development of products and services that meet are ever changing needs.

In order to meet these goals we decided to create a conference built around them. The result is the upcoming P3 Conference. P3 stands for Pricing, Practice Innovation and Project Management. The conference is being held in Chicago (to make it relatively easily reachable) on September 30th – October 2nd. The sessions will include the best in the world from law firms and in-house legal departments. The programs will include roundtable discussions, with experts discussing how they tackle problems, debating various approaches and methods. The content will be decidedly advanced. No one will be trying to convince people pricing and project management are good ideas. Instead we will be discussing in-the-trenches experiences and lessons learned. This is all directed at meeting goal #1.

Additionally we will have directed feedback sessions involving companies that are providing and developing cutting edge tools and services. These sessions will explore product offerings with an eye towards what is in development. Attendees will give their feedback on what they like and what they need. These sessions are focused on Goal #3.

The programs on Oct 2nd will cover a variety of topics, including numerous best practices – meeting Goal #2.

So … if you are involved in pricing, practice innovation or project management at your firm or in-house legal department, or if you just want to hear from the best in the industry on these topics, you will want to attend this conference. It will be a unique experience sharing some valuable ideas among some really great people.

I will add – registration is limited. This is not your usual marketing ploy to fill up seats. Given the relatively short notice for a conference and the desire to hold it in this time frame, we ended up with limited space. We plan to correct that for next year, however, this year space actually is limited. So if you want to attend, I highly recommend you register early.

I look forward to seeing many of our readers there.

PS: I would be remiss in not mentioning the support of the LMA in driving this conference. As noted above, this is being done on short notice, but the LMA Team is working hard to make this happen and they are doing it in style.

PPS: I would also be remiss in not thanking those on the Planning Committee: John Strange at Vinson & Elkins is the Chair. Kristina Lambright at Akin Gump, Purvi Sanghvi at Patterson Belknap and Tim Corcoran the President-Elect of LMA and consultant with Corcoran Consulting Group.

Image [cc] Wonderlane

I’m usually not big on sharing motivational sayings, but occasionally I run across things that make sense to me and make me feel a bit more motivated in moving forward in my profession. I have run across two of those things in the past 24-hours.

First of all, I read Andy Hines’ post on Ten Do’s and Don’ts for an Aging Futurist. Andy’s a great guy and has works in the field of Professional Futurists. You might remember the post on “Coolhunters” I did last year. Andy lists ten things that Aging Futurists should, and shouldn’t focus on as they enter the twilight of their careers. I particularly like #5 (the “Do” part, not the “Don’t” part.)

   Don’t… Do….
5. deflate the energy and enthusiasm for a project or idea by pointing out how “this is nothing new” or “this was already done before,” often by pointing out a critical paper written 20 years ago (that probably was not read then either ) build up ideas rather than tear them down; if there is relevant history, contribute what we can learn from it that aids the present case

Andy ends his list with the idea that “Don’t” think of all the above as just related to aging. I’ll add to that by saying “Don’t” think that this only applies to Futurists. Thanks Andy. I also look forward to hearing more about this when you are the lunch speaker at the AALL Conference in Seattle this July.

The other list was just pointed out to me by Geek #2. Inc. magazine has a list of 17 Ways to Be Happier at Work. He especially played up #7 on the list:

7. Daydream more rather than less.
The idea that daydreaming and working are mutually exclusive belongs back in the 20th century. It’s when you let your thoughts wander that you’re more likely to have the insights that will make you both unique and more competitive.

 I like #16, too. Trash everything in your work area that isn’t useful or beautiful. I’ll even expand on that one to include the attitude you take at work with a saying that my Aunt Joyce used to say in her infininte Southern Wisdom: “Don’t act ugly.”

Andy Selsberg’s op-ed in The New York Times this weekend got me thinking about the difficulty of professional writing in the age of Twitter. As someone that was taught the standards of a five-paragraph essay, or a 500-word report paper, the modern style of professional writing simply doesn’t fit this mold any longer. Many will blame Twitter for the reduction in the length of communications, but as I think about it, this has been an evolving process for a number of years… most likely starting with the boom in e-mail communications starting in the mid-1990’s.

I think back over the years to the memos I’ve written for bosses, judges, professors, deans, associates, and partners and I’ve recognized that my writing style has gone from lengthy paragraphs (five-paragraph essay), to bullet-point sentence fragments, to what it is today; a short, concise sentence or two that explains the situation and either leaves an open-ended question to be answered, or points to another document that gives a further explanation. Sounds almost exactly like what I do with my Twitter messages.

Let’s face it, writing isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do for many of us. Most of us have been able to establish a formula for writing (again, usually based upon a variation of the five-paragraph essay), and can “fake” our way through it by following that formula. Unfortunately, many of the people that are reading what we have to write don’t have the time or the interest to read your introduction, explanation of ideas, and conclusion, so they tend to skim through and pick out the highlights of what you’ve written. So, like it or not, your writing is already getting scaled back by the reader, and hopefully they haven’t missed the real highlights that were shrouded in those 15-20 sentences.

Selsberg nails the modern writing style when he hints that we’re not talking about dumbing down the way we write, but rather shortening the way we write by “learning how to write concisely, to express one key detail succinctly and eloquently.” He makes his students write these short, concise, succinct and eloquent assignments explaining YouTube videos, writing a review on Amazon, or an eBay ad on the clothes they are currently wearing. In the professional world, we have similar items that we write on explaining a newspaper story, a recent court decision, or synopsis of a competitive intelligence report. Just like with the classroom assignments, the short message is meant to give the reader enough information to either lead them on to something else, or to move them away from the topic because there is no need to go any further.

I just noticed that my explanation of modern short writing style has resulted in a basic five-paragraph (520-word) essay. It is still the main formula I use for blog writing, but I’ll shorten it up when I link to it on Twitter, or when I send out an email to my friends and colleagues pointing them to the post. Of course, now I’m wondering how much of this you’ve skimmed over just now trying to pick out the highlights?

I recently had the privilege of participating in a mentoring session given by a senior partner in my firm.  This partner is a consummate rainmaker and he was sharing how he approaches finding opportunities.  In essence, he is always looking for opportunities to make connections with people.  He talked about making the effort to provide answers even if the answer is connecting someone with a problem with another attorney.  He said “the attorney will not forget that you provided an opportunity and will reciprocate eventually and the person with a problem will see you as a problem solver”.  He went on to say, “even if the problem has nothing to do with legal services, offer a solution.  If the problem has to do with plumbing issues, find a plumber”.  This partner explained these ideas in very simple terms.  Easy to digest and even easier to implement.
The concepts and approaches he describes are even more relevant today, but the techniques are changing.  

Today, an attorney needs to know how to leverage social networking as a way to become “part of the conversation”.  

While the Internet has certainly changed the concept of community, it does not change the essence of being a trusted advisor.  Toby helped me understand the notion of “being part of the conversation” as a differentiator.  His point, more and more people are turning to the Internet to find quick answers.  

If they don’t hear your voice as part of the conversation, they will not know you are part of the community.  

As Toby usually does, he started explaining this by drawing a picture.  That picture is elegantly displayed in my office and usually becomes a point of discussion.  It is a constant reminder to me and serves as an opportunity for me to educate others around me about the power of the virtual community that has come to be known as social networking.
Have your voice heard, get involved, become part of the community and contribute to the conversation.  Provide your thoughts and share your interests.  Give a little, get a little.

I’m seeing some articles of how times seem to be getting better in the large law firm world.  Some associates are back up to the $160K pay range, and that those hard-hit practice areas (Capital Markets, Real Estate, and Corporate) are finally picking back up. So many of you may be thinking that we can start getting back to “normal” now that demand for legal services seems to be rebounding.  But don’t get too happy, because partners say that the best thing they did in this economic downturn was slash budgets [pdf] (politically correct term is “reduce expenses.”)  Even firms that jumped ahead of the curve and began offering alternative fee agreements to their clients seem to be having a hard time collecting on those agreements.
As I was reading through the [pdf] article written by Andrews Kurth’s Amy Sladczyk Hancock, PD Vital To The New Way Forward: Insights from Five Managing Partners (interview of Managing Partners of Andrews Kurth, Bracewell Guiliani, Dickstein Shapiro, Sutherland Asbill, and Steptoe Johnson), I got to thinking about what these BigLaw Managing Partners were seeing in their crystal balls.  As I told some of my peers in a personal note, I usually take my comments from Law Firm CEO’s like I take my eggs — with a grain of salt, but this article got me thinking if there is ‘opportunities’ within the library [KM, IT, etc.] to support professional development.  The big quote of:

“Competitive advantage in the new economy will depend entirely on having better trained lawyers who have been trained more efficiently and more quickly, and [professional development] departments and professionals are vital to helping law firms establish that advantage.” [emphasis mine]  

Seems like that knocking that many of you on the ‘administrative’ or ‘professional’ side of law firms are hearing might be opportunity.