Employers have an enormous stake in the transition from law school to law practice. If personnel costs are the firm's largest expense, and people are its most important assets, it is good business to make every effort to protect such valuable assets. Too often new associates are brought into a firm only to be shuffled through a quick administrative "sign in," then left high and dry at their desks to fend for themselves as work assignments begin to arrive. Instead of orientation, the associates begin a disorientation process.
New associates begin learning about and forming attitudes toward the firm starting with the first interviews. From the first day of employment, orientation, for better or for worse, begins. It makes good sense for the firm to realize this and to proceed to direct the process deliberately and competently from the beginning.
Whether the offer has been extended by phone or face to face, a letter or e-mail should be sent immediately, confirming all elements of the employment arrangement, including:
- Any guarantees or special assignments that have been promised during the recruiting "courtship" period;
- Initial salary and benefits--medical and life insurance and retirement;
- Policies on moving expenses, expenses relating to bar admission, and vacation time;
- Timing of initial salary review and the length of time before consideration for partnership, if this is formalized;
- Starting date; and
- Name, address, and telephone number of the person to contact with any questions during the pre-employment period.
In addition to the initial letter or e-mail of confirmation, any firm contact makes a strong, positive impression, making the associate feel welcomed and prepared. Additional correspondence might include:
- Any information on the city or the area, including helpful websites, maps, transportation, cultural affairs, community information and activities, lists of realtors or housing information;
- Welcoming letters e-mails and phone calls from lawyers in the firm, particularly from fellow law school alumni, the recruiting lawyers, likely supervisors or team leaders, or in a small firm, the managing partner; and
- Any manuals for lawyers and any reading lists or materials that may help the associate feel more prepared to join the firm.
These suggestions will prove beneficial to the firm by solidifying the associate's initial impression and aiding the transition. Once the internal systems are established to initiate orientation procedures, the process is comparatively simple to operate. Administrative support staff can coordinate the pre-arrival checklists and forms and ensure that there is adequate communication to both the recruit and to members of the firm who will participate in the orientation process. A member of the recruiting committee, the firm administrator, or a partner should coordinate the communication with the new associates.
 Day One
The new associate's first day sets the tone for the relationship, so it should begin as pleasantly and productively possible. The focus should be on welcoming the associates and facilitating their introduction to and integration into the firm. New lawyers should be introduced to fellow lawyers and to the support staff. A partner or the firm administrator should arrange to meet new associates upon arrival. The first day will include the administrative chores, such as filling out appropriate personnel forms and learning about the payroll system, the timekeeping system, the computer system, the telephone system, the security system, parking, the library, the copiers, the facsimile machines, and the kitchen.
The schedule also should include a series of brief meetings with senior support personnel who provide services the lawyer will need to learn to use. This list may include the librarian, the comptroller, and the legal assistant supervisor. The series of meetings is intended to familiarize the new associates with how the firm operates and whom to contact for subsequent inquiries. A tour of the entire office should be part of the package.
In addition to the tour of administrative services, new lawyers should be scheduled to meet with an established lawyer or an appropriate manager to learn in some detail how the associates should record time, what the firm expects of new lawyers in terms of time commitments, meetings, luncheons, and training sessions and in terms of quality of work, productivity, and specifics about any system of rotation. By the end of the second day, new associates should be introduced to their initial supervisors and work teams, including secretaries, legal assistants, and other lawyers.
It is important that if possible, the associate's first day not include specific work assignments mixed into the welcoming. It is equally important that the associate not begin work immediately with the idea that orientation will follow in a few days. Once the lawyer begins working, the orientation will not be as immediately relevant and conflicting demands are more likely. A new lawyer will not be welcomed in such a manner ever again, and there are many benefits to the firm in taking time to speed the assimilation process, establish important working relationships in a pleasant, supportive manner, and reduce the incidence of avoidable mistakes by a newcomer who does not know the way around.
In addition to the functional and administrative orientation and the opportunity to meet and be recognized by new professional colleagues, there are a number of things the employer can do to welcome the new lawyer. For example:
- If office space has to be cleared for the new lawyer, be sure that it has been completely cleared, cleaned, and readied for use prior to the new lawyer's arrival;
- If keys/key cards are needed for washrooms, outer doors, desks, etc., be sure that all keys/key cards have been ordered and are ready.
- Have firm credit cards, business cards, the associate's nameplate for the office door, computer, PDA, and the associate's e-mail and voicemail address ready.
- Be sure that the new lawyer is invited to lunch the first day and that invitations to any events the firm sponsors or participates in are extended to the new associate.
Read full excerpt from How to Manage Your Law Office: Integration, Training and Professional Development of Associates.