Lessons from 2020’s improvised new associate orientation

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Autumn was the season for new associates to assemble at their agency’s fundamental places of work, or in fancy offsite areas, to be initiated via an orientation or on-boarding program. These applications ranged from someday as much as one week relying on the agency’s tradition.

With the pandemic’s social distancing and journey warnings, nonetheless, the in-person orientation went up in smoke in 2020. Poof, it was gone — and regulation corporations needed to rethink how you can orient the movement of new associates coming into the authorized career. Law corporations have been pressed into adapting and creating coaching in codecs that they had by no means used earlier than.

The professionals answerable for designing, coordinating, and delivering on-boarding discovered themselves scrambling to create an expertise that would accomplish the identical tenor as earlier orientations, but with out the in-person peril. They struggled to carry on to traditions and instill the agency’s tradition utilizing digital platforms; and sadly, corporations are nonetheless going through most of the identical points round on-boarding and associate orientation as final 12 months.

Here are what some regulation corporations realized that had a long-lasting impression on this 12 months’s orientation programming.

Audience engagement

Senior attorneys and agency leaders are sometimes requested to talk at orientation applications to infuse agency information and tradition. Often, there is just one particular person most well-liked to current particular content material — for instance, the agency’s General Counsel — so, when that speaker lacks the flexibility to have interaction an viewers it turns into an issue. And this turns into a much bigger downside when the platform is digital.

One new method to participating an viewers otherwise was tried by regulation agency Lewis Roca. After a brief introduction, the companion performed a video on the necessary matter then adopted with a dialogue. “The discussion format was extremely well received,” says Julie Binter, Professional Development Director on the agency. “And they will try it this way again next year.”

Keeping the digital viewers and concerned is one key lesson many corporations have realized. Blank Rome’s Director of Attorney Professional Development, Joshua Troy, explains that his staff prepped their presenters by strolling them “through a ‘menu of interactivity’ ranging from breakout rooms to polling to prework, which allows us to ensure each session is engaging, effective, and rewarding.”

When applications are in-person once more, it is going to be attention-grabbing to see if presenters will keep targeted on viewers engagement.

Hybrid method

Before 2020 associates sat in a ballroom or classroom for hours as presenters rotated out and in, delivering their assigned matter. Yet now, Zoom fatigue from on-line programming has led to shorter digital session main some corporations to create studying sequence that coated smaller quantities of content material however stretched the variety of periods.

For the primary time, corporations instituted a blended academic method which has been dubbed a “hybrid” method. This means providing content material in quite a lot of codecs. Marlene Kane, Director of Professional Development at Canadian regulation agency McMillan, says the agency supplies content material, “in pre-work, post-session assignments, and self-directed Learning Plans.”

Akin Gump provided brief movies previous to substantive periods to maximise digital classroom time and make studying extra interactive. Jeanette Lee, Director of Attorney Training & Development on the agency says the agency created its personal bite-size, distant work greatest practices and know-how coaching movies.

Blended studying has been a method used within the educational and company world for years, so it’s nice to see it arrive within the authorized area. The query is, will blended studying stay a precedence when designing new applications?

Virtual mentoring

One space that has rallied within the digital atmosphere is mentoring initiatives. Kathy Igoe, Manager of Attorney Professional Development at Honigman, says one facet that went nicely final 12 months was that “Zoom helped the incoming class connect with their mentors and peers.” In truth, a number of corporations used their on-line capabilities to arrange espresso chats or lunches with teams throughout their corporations, which might not have occurred if the orientation had been an in-person occasion.

Blank Rome’s Troy explains that the agency “amplified [its] traditional mentoring approach by creating small group mentoring circles by video with multiple mentor-mentee pairs.”

Cooley, one other regulation agency, invested in a software program platform that “pairs lawyers based on their self-expressed goals and interests,” notes Gene Gilmore, Director of Professional Development, including that that is “a great way for people to broaden their network firmwide, which is in some ways easier to do virtually.”

Indeed, it seems that Zoom and different digital platforms have opened the door for corporations to proceed to attach individuals from completely different areas exterior the scope of an orientation program with out the journey prices or different bills.


A standard social piece to a new associate orientation is a team-building exercise. Depending on a agency’s ethos, these actions would vary from a night of beer and bowling to an out of doors ropes programs. “Trying to foster and create meaningful relationships in a virtual environment was so much more difficult,” says Kimberley Ho, National Director for Professional Recruiting at Borden Ladner Gervais, one other Canadian agency.

What has tended to occur to foster a staff expertise is for regulation corporations to have small group conferences by way of Zoom. For instance, legal professionals at Jackson Lewis began having brief, weekly conferences each Friday, in order that the new associates might join in small teams and talk about the subjects coated from the earlier week’s coaching. Tammie Garner, Senior Director of Professional Development on the agency, says they will maintain this facet in future orientation applications.

Will these digital occasions keep as a part of the on-boarding curricula now that corporations are embracing a everlasting or hybrid work from house coverage? Only time will inform.

Live vs. in-person

Interestingly, regulation corporations are all around the map in terms of whether or not they’ll have in-person or on-line orientations this 12 months. “Our onboarding/orientation will take place virtually with all the presentations taking place via Zoom for all our U.S. offices,” explains Rosa Lopes, Director of Administration within the Miami workplace of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.

On the other facet of the coin, Jessica Buchsbaum, Chief Legal Talent Officer at Miami-based Bilzin Sumberg, says the agency is planning an in-person occasion and “reverting to our programming from 2019.”

Binter of Lewis Roca says that their incoming class had some concern about their security throughout an in-person orientation, so the agency strictly noticed COVID-19 precautions by requiring masks, establishing the rooms with social distancing, and consuming offsite meals exterior.

The fundamental lesson realized from 2020 is that regulation agency orientation programming ought to constantly evolve. It mustn’t require a worldwide pandemic to encourage corporations to evaluation their content material and supply strategies. Every 12 months, professionals have the chance to refresh their on-boarding applications to make sure the content material and supply are related and interesting.

Opinions expressed are these of the writer. They don’t replicate the views of Reuters News, which, below the Trust Principles, is dedicated to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias. Thomson Reuters Institute is owned by Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.

Sharon Meit Abrahams

Dr. Sharon Meit Abrahams is a authorized expertise improvement knowledgeable
with greater than 25 years of expertise serving to corporations to implement and handle DEI {and professional} improvement initiatives. She supplies her teaching and consulting
via Legal Talent Advisors, LLC.

As the Director of Professional Development for 3 main regulation corporations she has dealt with each facet of an attorneys’ agency life from on-boarding and integration, via mentoring and substantive coaching, to succession planning and retirement.

Dr. Abrahams has printed three books with the American Bar Association and usually publishes articles for Thomson Reuters and American Legal Media on skilled and enterprise improvement. Dr. Abrahams is also a sought-after keynote speaker, program facilitator and regulation agency advisor. She offers again to the group by conducting complimentary applications and workshops for 501(c)(3) organizations.

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