helped with the issue of specialization. Clients began
to review bills more carefully, closely examining what
value was provided. Firms typically responded by pressuring associates to choose practice areas and develop
value-adding, substantive specialties earlier in their
careers. The generalist started to become a dying breed.
• Finally, over the past decade, many firms have developed competency models to map their expectations of
associates at each level as associates progress in their
careers. Training programs are often aimed at “filling
in the gaps,” to help associates grow from one level to
the next. Firms provide more training on critical professional skills—which, thankfully, we no longer refer
to as “soft” skills—such as project management, leadership, communication and presentation skills, understanding law firm economics, etc. Clients continue to
examine bills rigorously and to pressure firms to get
their younger attorneys up to speed faster (and without
charging clients for any learning curve time). All of this
focus on efficiency stacks the deck against efforts to
provide more individualized training and mentoring.
WHY STRENGTHS-BASED TRAINING?
As the business world demands higher returns on
training-related investments, the examination of what
training methods work or don’t work—and why—has
become more rigorous. Even the concept of training
itself is being questioned. Large professional services
firms such as Deloitte, for example, cite statistics that
show that adults learn 70 percent through experience, 20
percent through mentors and only 10 percent through
what we would classify as formal training. Given those
numbers, it’s even more imperative that the time spent
on the 10 percent be worthwhile. For several reasons, we
believe strengths-based training warrants a closer look.
1 Engagement. According to work by Gallup and others, when employees spend most of their time
working in their areas of strengths, we see an improvement in performance, engagement and retention.
Gallup, in fact, has built a successful consulting business
by advising companies about how to increase employee
engagement through a focus on strengths. A cornerstone
of Gallup’s program is the book StrengthsFinder 2.0,
which provides tools to help individuals and organizations more effectively leverage employees’ strengths. We
know of one major law firm that has worked extensively
with Gallup to build a strengths-based training and leadership development program.
30 Law Practice May/June 2013 l www.lawpractice.org
STEPS CAN HELP
1 People usually know
what they’re good at, so start by having attorneys
list what they see as their own top strengths.
2 Corroborate and adjust the lists, based on
some outside evidence, such as
•Informal conversations with peers, staff and
others. Colleagues often have a keen awareness of what someone does well; attorneys
should use this information to identify their
own sweet spots.
• Changes or trends in performance feedback. Do
these trends match the attorney’s own list of
strengths? Any additions? Anything not fit? the
attorney should reflect carefully on feedback
messages and trends.
3 Advise attorneys to consider the professional
skills that lawyers don’t always focus on. Is an
attorney great at motivating people? Does he or
she have unusually strong strategic insights or a
great ability to connect and empathize with clients?
Make sure the attorney thinks broadly about
strengths to include factors beyond the substantive
legal skills needed to perform the job.
4 How do an attorney’s strengths relate to his or
her role? If it’s not immediately apparent, help the
attorney to think creatively to find meaningful
connections between the attorney’s strengths and
his or her work.