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At Pepper, we balance our associates’ rights to drive their own careers with the firm’s responsibility to train and develop lawyers who serve our clients with efficiency and excellence. There are five facets of the firm’s formal development program for associates: (1) professional competency framework; (2) mentoring; (3) training; (4) evaluation; and (5) professional development planning.
The competency framework is the foundation of our program. It outlines the skills we believe all successful associates must develop over time. In addition to providing a basis for mentoring, evaluating, advancing, compensating and training associates, the competency framework guides associates as they chart their development consistent with firm standards. The following programs and processes, which comprise the other four components of the professional development program, support and provide additional structure to the associate development process:
- an associate mentor program to facilitate a new associate’s integration into the firm
- a partner mentor program for ongoing coaching, instruction, career planning, development and practice opportunities
- formal training programs by practice groups, departments and offices
- on-the-job training that allows associates to complete work for pro bono clients
- in-house continuing legal education programs designed to meet mandatory CLE requirements and practice group training needs
- support for attendance at selected outside seminars and workshops
- an annual performance evaluation process designed to assess development, give constructive feedback, set level-appropriate goals and guide training for the next year
- support for participation in professional and community organizations.
Through this combination of natural learning opportunities and formal programs, the firm helps associates develop the skills that are essential to long-term success at the firm.
The competency framework is a written articulation of the specific skills and expertise the firm expects associates to develop and demonstrate over time. The framework consists of firm-wide professional competencies and practice group-specific benchmarks. Competencies are the skills that we believe are foundational for every associate. They fall into key performance areas such as legal skills, communication skills and professionalism. Each competency has specific performance criteria calibrated by developmental level. Benchmarks are the specific skills and expertise necessary to perform the work that is unique to individual practice groups. Benchmarks also are keyed to developmental levels. There are four developmental levels in the framework. Progression through the levels is flexible and based on merit and skills development, as determined in the annual evaluation process.
Associate professional development begins the day associates walk through the door. The Associate Mentor Program matches first-year associates with more senior associates who help them make a smooth transition into their practice groups and the firm. Associate mentors in this program make a one-year commitment to help a new associate “learn the ropes” during his or her first year at Pepper.
Associates also participate in the firm’s Partner Mentor Program, in which partners offer their associate protégés candid feedback and coaching, professional insight, and opportunities to guide and support the associates’ performance and overall professional development. Professional development planning is an important aspect of the mentoring process.
Training and CLE Programs
First-year, judicial clerks and junior lateral lawyers receive departmental training that starts during orientation. Litigation and transactional associates attend regularly scheduled training sessions during their first months at the firm. These sessions are geared to the practical aspects of legal practice. Mid-level and senior associates have the opportunity to participate in varied training that includes deposition skills, one-on-one drafting sessions, business development and writing programs. Pepper also encourages mid- and senior-level associates to serve as faculty for the first-year training sessions, which gives them the opportunity to work on their presentation skills. Most of our practice groups also offer training on substantive law and practice skills unique to their practice areas.
In addition to internal training programs, Pepper associates benefit from the firm’s privileged membership with the Practising Law Institute (PLI). Through this arrangement, the firm hosts in-house live webcasts of nationally recognized continuing legal education programs. Attorneys also may attend live PLI programs or access programming 24/7 on demand from PLI’s Web site. Programs address substantive areas of law and practical skills and allow our attorneys to educate themselves in current and new practice areas.
Assignments / Experience
Professional development is more than just training opportunities. The most significant part of our associates’ professional development is accomplished through experience. We encourage associates to pursue additional training and development opportunities through pro bono work in areas that match their interests. Associates are given significant responsibility to handle matters when they have proven themselves capable of assuming that responsibility.
The annual associate evaluation process rounds out the professional development program. The evaluation process has two components – feedback on an associate’s performance over the course of the year and a self-assessment of an associate’s developmental progress. As part of this process, associates also give and are given guidance on specific training and experiences that would be helpful to their continuing development and advancement.
Pro Bono, Professional and Community Involvement
Pepper has a long-standing commitment to pro bono work. Pro bono work benefits the public, the individuals we serve, and the development of our attorneys’ skills. We believe that each of our attorneys should provide public-interest legal services, and we encourage our associates to do so. The depth and breadth of participation in our pro bono program is a reflection of our attorneys’ commitment to the profession. The firm’s pro bono efforts are overseen by the firm’s full-time Director of Pro Bono Programs, who serves as an invaluable resource for our associates.
In addition, we understand and value our associates’ participation in professional and community organizations. We encourage associates to assume leadership positions in such organizations as an extension of formal professional and career development training.