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by Nicole Weber | September 24, 2014


It’s about that time of year when top candidates are sitting on multiple offers for summer associate positions, agonizing over which firm to choose. A firm can have the most high-profile group in your chosen practice area, or it may give the best bonuses, or it may be known for having a really “laid-back” or “fun” culture. None of that matters at the end of the day if new associates aren’t learning how to practice law. All junior attorneys will inevitably “learn by doing” to a large extent, but the support they receive in the way of training and mentoring can make or break the first couple years of practice. When making tough decisions this fall, consider what associates told Vault in our annual survey about what it means to have excellent training and mentoring opportunities:  

  • “There are hundreds and hundreds of courses taught every year by partners, other associates and outside experts in every conceivable area that the firm works in.  These are not video tapes or online streaming from an outside provider.  These are colleagues sitting in a conference room, live, in person, teaching.  One could spend more time in classes in one month here than in all of law school.  The classes cover everything from the fundamentals of our practice to the most nuanced and up to the minute developments as exist in the market.”
  • “I spent more time in training seminars during my first three months than I spent in classes during all of law school.  The firm's commitment to training, both informal and formal, is without doubt the best around.  Mentoring is connected to training.  From day one as a summer you are given both senior partners as mentors and also junior associates who might better understand some of what you're going through.”
  • “I'm constantly getting reminders to attend in-house trainings of one sort or another—ranging from seminars on best practices for feedback, to multi-day trial advocacy workshops.  We also have incredible mentoring systems in place, especially for female associates (Women's Forum, mentoring circles, etc.).  One female partner in particular is especially generous with her time and every year invites all women associates to her home for a dinner.  I don't think you see that sort of hospitality and camaraderie outside of the summer program at most places!”
  • “There is so much training here that it's hard to make it to everything.  The classes are fantastic.  A few recent highlights: A 2-day deposition workshop; a writing workshop led; a course on stress-management taught by a pair of psychologists; a course on networking techniques; and a public speaking class. All pretty amazing subjects that we are encouraged to attend, and it's all free.”
  • “In addition to the very full selection of formal training programs (seems like there's always something on the calendar), the firm does a great job of doing things like paying for coffees and lunches so you can help develop mentoring relationships with junior associates.”

On the flip side, here is what we heard from some disgruntled associates:

  • “I don't think this firm could do less formal training, mentoring, or sponsorship.  As for informal training, there must be a better way than forcing me to beg paralegals to teach me how to use various platforms/software that I have to use for my job.”
  • “The firm needs to improve on its training programs so that they are less CLE based and more clinical.  Associates prefer simulations and real-life situations as their training basis.  On the job training needs to be taken more seriously.  Associates who work with partners that spend the time to teach get much more training than those that do not have that mentor.”
  • “While there are a number of formal training programs, they are of limited value.  Also, even though there are scheduled programs during your first, third and fifth years at the firm, attendance is poor because little effort is made to provide coverage and work almost always interferes to some extent.  Mentoring and informal training is almost non-existent - in particular, partners expect that you will develop your career on your own.”
  • “Despite claims on its website, the firm has no in-house training program.  It also refuses to pay for associates to attend third-party training unless it's on specialized subject areas.  Associates need to be prepared to learn by doing.  And the firm needs to re-evaluate its approach now that it's no longer tiny.”
  • “Partners pick favorites and many people are left without mentorship and partners don’t really show incentive to cultivate growth.  Even when a mentor is assigned to you, the mentor (unless you are his/her "pet") doesn’t take interest in developing the relationship or mentoring.”

Click to see Vault’s top-ranked firms for Formal Training and Informal Training, Mentoring and Sponsorship.

So when you go back to take a second look, find out if the firm offers the type of learning environment that is right for you. Some firms are self-proclaimed “trial by fire” places, and this might be your style. Others might have a plethora of in-house course offerings and a very structured system to make sure that junior attorneys are appropriately looked after by partner and senior associate mentors. Think about how you learn best, and make sure you are headed to a place that provides the requisite level of “hands-on” or “hands-off” approach that will set you up for success. 

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Filed Under: Law Tags: Law Firms|Mentoring|Training