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by Vault Law Editors | June 15, 2010


Last Friday, I attended the NALP 2010 Diversity Summit, held at Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. The entire conference was interesting — covering such topics as behavioral interviewing, non-partner alternatives to advancement, competency-based compensation, pipeline programs, and how generational differences inform the entire spectrum from recruitment to advancement — but probably the standout session for me was the one led by Werten Bellamy, President of Stakeholders, Inc.: “Associate Competencies: The Next Great Diversity Breakthrough or the Next Barrier to Diversity?”

According to Bellamy, “Associate competencies are potentially the biggest breakthrough for diversity in the last 30 years.” And in his detailed and engaging presentation, he proceeded to outline how such frameworks offer real routes to success for diverse lawyers. But in order to succeed, law students and associates need to know how they will be judged, both in interviews and at subsequent stages of their careers. They need not only to know what is expected of them, but also to understand why it is expected and how they can achieve it. At least some of the gap between diverse lawyers’ efforts and their success seems to stem from inadequate information or preparation on these points.

The law firm reward system (hiring, evaluation, career progression) is a form of prepayment. Firms are making predictive judgments of what they believe associates will be one day. This represents a shift for law students, because in their academic lives rewards are based on past achievement.

Bellamy cited a study that asked respondents to rank the relative importance of the following six attributes in hiring:

Positive attitude
Writing skills
Resilience/work ethic
Advocacy skills
Analytic skills

While diverse lawyers ranked writing skills, advocacy skills and analytical skills highest, partners said the most important attributes are a positive attitude, resilience/work ethic and initiative.

Law schools should help students understand these “gateway attributes” and how they’ve manifested themselves in their experience. These attributes are important to partners because they have relational value — their presence suggests candidates have other, related attributes, while their absence suggests a lack thereof. For example:

  • Initiative suggests motivation, reliability, ability to juggle tasks and anticipate needs (conversely, if a student lacks initiative, it’s hard to see him as a go-getter).

  • Positive attitude suggests the person is responsive, likeable, loyal, with ability to inspire and accept critique, and willingness to sacrifice.

  • Resilience suggests the candidate can work under stress, adapt, imagine possibilities, persevere.

These attributes are also difficult to teach, whereas advocacy, writing and analytical skills are easier to train.

Law students need to understand the interview from the partners’ perspective:

  • They consider past experiences.

  • They have a reference point (i.e., a standard against which they measure performance). Students should know what this reference point is.

  • They expect that their preferences are already known to the candidates. Students need to know what these preferences are.

According to Bellamy, these are the questions that concern an interviewing partner:

  • Can this person attract my investment?

  • What will it feel like to work with this person?

  • Does this student want my life? to make the same sacrifices?

  • Can this student positively engage and contribute to the firm culture?

  • Can this person earn my trust?

Tomorrow, more thoughts on diverse associates and competency frameworks.

- posted by vera


Filed Under: Law
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