You ever get that feeling that a couple members of your cohort weren’t the most aware folks in the bunch? Sure, they had good grades and all, but their people skills were a little behind on the curve. If you thought they were bad, imagine a generation of issue spotters whose main interaction with cold calls and group projects was mediated by Zoom. Things have gotten to the point where big names at reputable law firms have realized that even the almighty billable hour needs to take a backseat to employees who struggle with civility and communication. From Law.com:
Debevoise deputy presiding partner Nicole Mesard is the co-chair of the firm’s global talent initiative, charged with making sure associates have the appropriate “experience” at the firm. As part of that, Mesard wants to make sure her associates have been taught a range of soft skills to help them progress in their careers.
Mesard said “drama-infused” training sessions, where attorneys essentially role-play scenarios, are helpful in training attorneys on how to deal with complicated, uncomfortable or contentious situations.
These “drama-infused” scenarios are meant to train young attorneys on how to actively listen, communicate clearly via email, and negotiate. As it turns out, yelling “Me right, you wrong!” and responding to opposing counsel with block quotes from a 2006 Corporations outline will only get you so far. Isn’t it weird that there is no necessary connection between being a person who did well enough in law school to get employed by a top 100 Biglaw firm and not being proficient at writing clear emails or communicating with one’s clients? It is almost as if law school is a six-figure training program that mints degrees for its students without preparing them for the basic, real-world interactions one would expect of the vocation. It has got to be difficult zealously representing one’s client when you struggle communicating with them or with opposing counsel over email, after all.
Annemargaret Connolly, Weil professional development committee co-chair, said some of what attorneys learned in law school needs to be augmented in order to communicate effectively with business clients.
“In law school, we write these long, detailed answers to questions, but our clients might want something more concise. We want to be true advisers, not merely lawyers,” she said.
Connolly said that the expectation for those hired by Weil is that the candidates are smart and driven, but so are most of the candidates for a Big Law job. The marketplace differentiation lies in what comes next.
A bold suggestion — maybe firms should gauge for conversational aptitude, civility, and clarity in communication? Some form of background check to make sure that the applicant adequately walks the line of being familiar enough with civil procedure while also making sure that they’re the type of person who returns the supermarket cart when they’re done with it? As silly as that sounds, it makes sense when one of the areas associates seem to be lacking is in the empathy department.
“There is basic blocking and tackling, like following up on things, owning up to mistakes and being proactive,” [Mesard] said. “But you have to go deeper. We have to think about what our client’s goals are. What sort of speed of execution are they looking for? What is their culture and self-image? These skills become more critical as you become more senior.”
Merely LARPing as a social butterfly can only get you so far.
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.