A look at the skills, methods, and reasons behind the firm’s transactional training program.
Rick Jenney knows the stakes are high for his firm’s attorney training program. “We value our reputation for excellence,” says Jenney, a finance partner responsible for coordinating Corporate and Finance Department attorney training at Morrison & Foerster LLP. “And given the rates that big law firms charge for associates’ time, clients are right to expect our people to be trained well.” Jenney works as part of the broader Legal Talent team at MoFo, which includes attorney recruiting, attorney development, and attorney training. His job is to help associates at all levels develop and sharpen their transactional skills and knowledge. Like most other big law firms, MoFo offers training programs in substantive legal topics, including through outside vendors such as Hotshot. Skills training, however, is more of a challenge.
Henry Brown, a former IP lawyer and law professor now serving as MoFo’s Director of Attorney Training, notes that “new attorneys come out of law school with a good grounding in the concepts and even some of the skills they need for litigation practice. We don’t see the same grounding in business law concepts and skills, which is a gap, given that about half of our lawyers work in business law.” Recognizing the need to provide clients with practice-ready lawyers, the MoFo Legal Talent team coordinates attorney development from the recruiting through the training and development phases of an associate’s career at the firm.
Designing a Curriculum for All Levels
Regarding transactional skills training, the MoFo Attorney Training Group, together with the firm's Attorney Development Group, established a collection of skills training programs with a mix of live classes, written resources, and on-demand videos like those from Hotshot. Each skill area has programs for junior, mid-level, and senior associates. The ten skills areas are:
- Doing Deals
- Due Diligence
- Technical Writing
- Negotiating a Deal
- Project Management
- Counselling Clients
- Risk Management & Ethics
- Using Technology
- Drafting Documents
- Quality Control
“Junior associates need more foundational skills than mid-level or senior associates,” Jenney says. “So, for a skill like legal project management, we start with a program on document review for juniors and offer ‘Orchestrating a Closing’ for people with more experience.” Similarly, junior associates learn about the due diligence process itself, while mid-level and senior associates are taught how to manage others doing due diligence.
“One essential skill we teach is Writing Analytical Emails, targeted to junior and mid-level associates,” he notes. “We’re teaching them to write an email to a client that explains issues and options without being a legal brief. This type of communication is so important, but it is not intuitive. It took me 20 years to really figure it out!”
As noted above, MoFo also works to deepen all attorneys’ expertise in substantive legal topics, such as securities laws, loan agreements, and indemnity provisions. “Those courses come together easily because our senior associates and partners have the know-how and are eager to share their expertise,” he says.
The Use of Blended Learning
While MoFo offers a wide assortment of substantive and skills programing, associates often focus on programing designed to meet a specific then-current need or important to a formal development plan. In addition to presentations from subject matter experts at the firm, MoFo incorporates off-the-shelf content into its programs for pre- and post-session learning opportunities.
Using Hotshot videos as a foundation allows MoFo lawyers to have easy access to high-quality training content, and then get firm-specific techniques through live sessions or coaching from mentors. “We’re always looking for the common denominator,” Jenney says, “so we don’t have to do all of our training live or with tailored content. With 180 partners in our business law practice there are certainly nuances as to how our attorneys like to get things done. We put on programs, take feedback, and adjust accordingly for next time.”
According to Henry Brown, “Hotshot courses are great additions to our training program. They have excellent production value, are short and legally correct, and cover a broad array of skills and techniques,” he says. “We can create a live program in-house and ask attendees to watch the Hotshot material ahead of time as background.” All available internal and external data indicates that quality, on-demand programing is important to the newer generation of lawyers. “Hotshot allows our attorneys the flexibility of accessing essential basic training on their own schedules,” Brown says.
Investing in associate training pays off for MoFo in both the short-run and the long-run. Diane Downs, the firm’s overall Director of Legal Talent, notes that, “well-trained lawyers are more likely to stay with the firm. We invest in them so they can do their current assignments well, but also so that they feel – rightly -- that they'll keep learning over time.” She further notes that big firm lawyers often leave for good jobs in corporations, and many become clients of their old firm. “Our alums in those positions appreciate that training that they've gotten, and they trust us because they know we train our people. Sometimes they even ask us for training materials to help their more junior new colleagues develop.”
“Our goal is confident, competent lawyers who are happy to be a part of our firm,” Jenney says. “Providing training that is relevant, sustainable, and engaging is critical for achieving that goal.”