BigLaw as BigMall

by Vault Law Editors | June 16, 2010

  • My Vault

Werten Bellamy’s presentation at the NALP 2010 Diversity Summit last week was rich in content and advice for law students, law schools and law firms on how to help ensure diverse lawyers’ success. Yesterday’s post discussed the “gateway attributes” interviewing partners look for when hiring law students. What happens once students have been hired? And why does the competency-based model for associate evaluation represent, as Bellamy suggests, “the biggest breakthrough for diversity in the last 30 years”?

One of Bellamy’s most apt analogies was that of the shopping mall. Imagine a law firm as a mall, with partners as shoppers and associates as stores. If a partner walks into a store, has a good experience and comes out with a good product, she’ll return when she needs or wants to purchase something again. Perhaps she’ll also tell other partners about this great store or maybe her colleagues will see her shopping there, which will likely generate more business, since partners like to shop in crowded stores. But if a partner has a bad experience (the salesperson ignores her, her size isn’t available, the register line is too long), she won’t come back and she might share that experience with other partners.

There are four stages of the shopping/associate-partner experience: browser, purchaser, loyal shopper and advocate. An associate’s goal is to convert a browsing partner into a purchaser, then a regular shopper and, ideally, an active advocate within the firm. According to Bellamy, diverse associates’ success is a direct function of the rate of partner conversion: “Associate competencies, done well, can be a potent learning framework for increasing the rates of partner conversion, and not just a compelling framework for evaluation.”

Bellamy outlined how competencies offer associates opportunities not only to showcase their skills but also to find common ground with partners:

  • Increasing vigilance by clients and competition for services makes firms more selective about which associates they will make meaningful investments in. Associates therefore need to show that they will provide a return on that investment.

  • While people may respect differences, they invest in likenesses. Students/associates therefore need to find likenesses that partners will recognize and appreciate.

  • Competencies serve as a bridge in this regard — they help diverse attorneys find likenesses with potential investors (partners), and they help partners see attributes that signal future value.

Competencies have great potential, Bellamy argued, but only if the frameworks set forth how each competency is exemplified and produced. In other words, it’s not enough merely to list a set of core competencies associates must achieve; firms should also ensure there are models, or examples, of each competency, so associates can see how it is actually accomplished in the workplace.

Members of outsider groups compete best, says Bellamy, when:

  1. Information asymmetry is reduced
  2. Performance expectations are defined
  3. They know how competencies are produced and can picture them
  4. They have the mindset and willingness to self-invest
  5. There are opportunities for successful performance to be seen

Next post: what distinguishes a top performer from a merely good lawyer

- posted by vera

Filed Under: Law

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