How top lawyers are like Lance Armstrong

by Vault Law Editors | June 21, 2010

  • My Vault

When discussing the state of diversity in the legal profession, I often sense frustration from law firms who feel like they’re doing all the right things—creating a diversity plan, recruiting diverse talent, setting up diversity committees and affinity groups, participating in pipeline programs—and yet the number of minority attorneys in their senior ranks and especially in leadership positions remains dishearteningly low. What’s missing? What more can, and should, firms do to ensure that diverse lawyers not only get hired but, more importantly, advance and succeed?

Some useful insights were offered at the recent NALP Diversity Summit in Chicago. In his presentation on associate competencies, Werten Bellamy highlighted ways in which law schools can help law students better understand what law firms are looking for, and explained how a competency-based system, done well, can be a potent tool for enabling diverse associates’ success.

According to Bellamy, an effective competency framework:

  • defines performance expectations (i.e., competencies);
  • includes “competency in action” (specific examples of how each competency is executed in the workplace, to give diverse associates a model for success); and
  • includes a "workout" portion—what mindset is needed in order to execute the competency well.

For Bellamy, who has studied top performers to figure out what they do and how they got there, the difference between good lawyers and top performers is what top performers do when no one is watching. It’s not a problem of intellectual strength, he says, but one of mindset.

lance armstrong, model for associate success
AP Photo/Robert Durell

To help explain, Bellamy pulled out some Lance Armstrong images (he no longer cites Tiger Woods). We’ve all seen Lance win races. But when we’re not watching, what’s he doing? He’s working out, training and focusing on specific muscle groups to develop specific skills. Top-performing lawyers do the same thing: they work out between races and try to build specific skill sets.

For example, after being given a new project and before starting on it, an associate might research similar projects or talk to colleagues who’ve worked with the same partner to get a sense of how she likes things done. Such workouts can help lawyers develop client service, one of the core competencies associates typically must demonstrate in order to advance in their career.

The important fact is that all good lawyers can perform these exercises, they can—and should—be working out; getting them to do so is just a question of mindset and training. What law schools and law firms can do is empower diverse lawyers by sharing not only what competencies they are required to produce but also what mindset, or workouts, they need to develop in order to perform them well.

Achieving a “new diversity narrative,” says Bellamy, means moving beyond a commitment to diversity to empowering diverse students and lawyers to become indispensable.

- posted by vera

Filed Under: Law

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