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THE MAGAZINE      May/June 2002
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TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE

RESEARCH DIG WITH RICKI ANDERSEN

Caring for Your New Lawyers

How can a firm help its new hires learn what they need to know? How we do things here.

In any given year, a striking number of lawyers are in a state of flux—from newly minted law school graduates looking for their first job, to senior litigators migrating to new challenges with new firms. The one certainty is that lawyers new to any firm need care and feeding in myriad ways. All of them need to know and understand three things: (1) the firm’s culture; (2) the resources available to help them develop their practices; and (3) where to get help and guidance for research and practice purposes.

Obtaining a thorough understanding of a new firm’s workings may be the greatest research project lawyers face. How can a firm help its new lawyers learn what they need to know? To offer an example, here are programs in place at my firm.

Summer Clerks and Graduates: Starter Courses

With the youngest lawyer-trainees—summer students and recent law school graduates—my firm, McMillan Binch, homes in on these key areas: lawyering skills, research skills and the firm’s core values (respect, teamwork, commitment, professional excellence and client service). In addition, there’s a corollary focus on effective problem solving in those areas that don’t have handy labels. The newest of the new need real-world information across the spectrum.

To that end, each summer our firm’s Professional Growth and Management group runs more than 45 programs for its junior lawyers. The programs cover basic firm orientation, computer skills, lawyering skills, available electronic resources and each of the firm’s practice areas. There are also courses on firm standards for precedents, memoranda and substantive areas of the law. Newbies get a good overview of the library, its staff and professional resources, from in-house reference materials to interlibrary loans. They learn who does what and who to call for help.

In addition, they are introduced to the firm’s intranet, and shown how to make good use of its practice area Web pages (now under development, with areas from corporate finance to real estate law). These pages contain links to current practice issues, case law, legislation, government notices, relevant Web sites, breaking news, journals, competitive intelligence and more. They’re great research tools.

Young Associates: A Bit of Boot Camp

The firm’s director of professional development undertakes the longer-term care of McMillan Binch’s young associates. Each year, she puts together an intensive week of programs—called BinchCamp—for new associates as well as lateral hires. (Lawyers from sister firms and clients also are invited to join.) BinchCamp is designed to ease the transition from student to practicing lawyer by introducing hands-on uses of transaction skills. Training session topics include drafting, negotiation and deal management. In addition, BinchCamp delves deeper into the business and accounting sides of the firm, addressing management, structure and professional responsibility, too.

Rounding out the firm’s ongoing training, there are more than 75 programs on individual practice areas and firmwide issues throughout the year. Practice area sessions focus on substantive law and in-depth cross-practice topics. Firmwide sessions target practice skills, business skills and professional responsibility. Firm members as well as outside consultants present these.

Lateral Hires: Customized Care

A third group of lawyers, albeit more experienced, needs every bit as much nurturing as the recent graduates. Senior associates and partners who join the firm at later stages in their careers also need positive exposure to the firm’s standards, values and structure. While they don’t require the intensive orientation needed by the newest lawyers, more-senior hires still require specific attention from management and research personnel. We consult with them about their practice interests, what sort of tools they require in print or electronic format and what they need to know about the firm’s special workings.

They also need training in the firm’s range of technology. (At McMillan Binch, we use technology assertively.) In particular, trainers and librarians help these lawyers overcome any "technological reticence," encouraging them to fully use—and enjoy—the systems, including Web surfing, CD-ROM research and the intranet practice area pages.

A Social on the Side

When lawyers come aboard your firm—be they fresh-faced graduates or seasoned lateral hires—give them the necessary education and support. Teach them how your firm works, and learn what they need.

However, lest they think that all you do is slog through the days researching, teaching, handholding and working, working, working, show them your fun side. My firm holds a "Firm Social" in the library every Friday afternoon. We consider it part of spreading our culture. It’s yet one more way to help new lawyers on their passage to practice.

Ricki Anne Andersen (randersen@mcbinch.com) is Director of Library Services for McMillan Binch in Toronto, ONT.