There was a great article published earlier this year in Above The Law about the difference between how HR departments work in a corporation and a typical law firm. In short, corporations develop their people while law firms exile those who have lost their usefulness. What a waste of time, talent and resources that could be saved with a little bit of coaching.
I could take some time to talk about all of the costs involved in bringing in a new associate and getting them up to speed for the first few years. However, I do not have that kind of time or accounting skills this early in the morning. It is a tremendous amount of money. If we only calculated the costs BEFORE they started their first day at the firm (recruiting trips, interview time, Summer Associate social events, technology and so on), it would already be an enormous investment. Don’t forget there also was an opportunity cost of choosing this associate and not the next one on the list.
The typical corporation understands that hard work and education are the first two steps of a life long journey to the pinnacle of their career. They invest in training to make sure they know what they are doing and how to do it. They give them harder and more complex challenges as their level of improvement allows. Most importantly, someone is coaching them. Someone, or even multiple people, are helping them get better at what they do every single day.
This is how all high performers develop. No one is asked to go into space on the first day of astronaut training, and we can’t leave them there even if we did. No firefighter inherently knows how to handle a Class B fire, and learning the hard way would be a mistake to those around them. Likewise, it is unfair to ask our associates to figure it out for themselves in a Lord of the Flies style attrition contest where the favor of the partner is the prize. It is also really damn expensive to do so.
It’s your job
Coaching is the most important component of professional development. It is also essential. You may have a handful of people that survive the culling, but it is most likely due to their luck, internal connections or political savvy. When your people are your most valuable and expensive asset, you MUST coach them. That is how they learn how to handle that big deal, assume a first chair position and win that next client. As a leader, helping them get better is your job and not theirs.