With the battle for associate talent at a fever pitch, Biglaw firms are trying to distinguish themselves in any way they can. Enter Sidley. The firm has announced a new associate leadership and executive development program that will launch in the new year and is designed to create “world-class, business-savvy lawyers.”
The program is available to associates in their fourth through eighth years at the firm, and will feature MBA-level executive training. As folks advance at the firm, they’ll earn promotions with enhanced titles — Managing Associate or Senior Managing Associate — which, in addition to making your mom proud, will signal to clients and the rest of the world the new skills you’ve learned.
So, what does all that entail? As Yvette Ostolaza, chair-elect of Sidley’s Management Committee and global co-leader of Sidley’s Litigation group, told me, associates will have access to executive leadership programs at business schools such as Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, The University of Chicago, and Northwestern. Which is in addition to internal executive leadership academies focused on business, client, and professional skills. As they move through the program, they’ll also be afforded the opportunity to work on “hands-on passion projects” with with select nonprofit legal and community organizations, and this is more than just legal pro bono opportunities — there’s a wide range of community service that falls under this umbrella. More senior associates will also get personalized career and business development coaching.
If this sounds a lot like programs in the corporate world, you’re right — that’s what Ostolaza and Sidley modeled the program after. Instead of just throwing associates into management positions without training or experience, Sidley is giving folks the tools to excel at their evolving roles at the firm. But they also hope the program — which is voluntary and all the time associates spend on it will count towards bonus hours — will create a “stickiness” within the cohort that participates together.
As Ostolaza said of the program:
“We want our associates to have the opportunity to advance their careers and credentials through world-class executive training. In addition to our competitive compensation, we will continue to invest in our associates and clients by providing, and paying for, MBA-level executive training at top universities. At the same time, we recognize that our clients value lawyers who understand big-picture business issues and how those impact their legal matters. We see an opportunity to prepare our associates to rise to the challenges our clients face in an increasingly complex and dynamic global market. The career coaching is an added way to have our associates chart their own path whether they choose to stay with us for the rest of their careers, or become a leader at a client or in their communities.”
Michael Schmidtberger, chair of the firm’s Executive Committee, had this to say of the new program:
“The Sidley program is a key part of our comprehensive approach to associate development and well-being. We are committed to providing our associates with the resources and training necessary to help them become the best possible version of their professional selves over the long term – this program directly responds to their desire for development and leadership opportunities.”
Looks like Sidley knows that investing in associates takes more than handfuls of bonus cash. Of course, everyone loves that, but the skills and training available as part of this program will last longer than the time it takes to pay off your student loans. Ostolaza shared this is a significant financial investment on the part of the firm, but they want associates — no matter where their career takes them — to feel the lasting impact of the program. And Ostolaza speaks from experience, she recently took Disruptive Innovation at Harvard — similar to the MBA-level classes available as part of the program — and found her way of thinking changed by the class.
And maybe, just maybe, it will give associates a reason to stay at the firm.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).