Insights from this year’s NALP PDI Conference

Last week I attended the NALP PDI conference in D.C. where 400 law firm and law school professional development experts shared ideas and discussed industry trends.
I presented with Morgan Smith, Chief Talent Officer at Frost Brown Todd, on Recruiting & Retaining Team Members in a Shifting Landscape. Morgan and I met more than 25 years ago at a NALP conference. She has deep expertise in law firm PD and has managed teams at a number of AmLaw 100 and 200 law firms nationwide.
Over the past 30 years Morgan and I have lived through many economic cycles and multiple recessions.
Our key messages to the 40+ colleagues who attended our session was:
      ◦     Economic downturns are good opportunities to do some proactive career planning with team members (as well as with your attorneys);
      ◦     Less lateral hiring will provide more time for integration initiatives to take place;
      ◦     Cross-training team members offers them careers growth and will increase retention.
I thoroughly enjoyed the programs I attended over the 2-day conference, and want to share a few of my key takeaways with you:
Paula Davis, founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute, shared insights on why our team members are burnt out and what we can do to help.
I particularly liked how she defined two concepts:
      1. Belonging: I am part of something bigger than me and my identity can be nurtured here
      2. Connection: opposite of loneliness
One of her suggestions for helping team members to feel a sense of belonging is to take time to debrief after projects and to express gratitude.
Hearing from Dr. Larry Richardson from LawyerBrain is always a good reminder of how many of our attorneys have traits that make it challenging, but not impossible, to implement PD programs.
Dr. Richardson has been studying BigLaw attorneys for over 30 years and administering the Caliper assessment to them. Of the 21 traits on the assessment, 2 that are most frequently seen in big firm lawyers are:
      ◦     High skepticism
      ◦     Low empathy
Having worked inside of 2 large NY law firms and with 120 nationwide, I can vouch for the fact that there are ways to get law firms to implement PD initiatives to support talent. They key is showing them evidence. Evidence for why they should, and evidence for what will happen if they don’t.
Yes, 2023 is likely to bring a recession and we have a lot of work to do to create a post-pandemic workplace that allows for flexibility, integrates many new hires, and deals with post-pandemic well-being challenges, etc., but I chose to believe that more gets created in down economic cycles than in up ones. The Caliper must be accurate and there’s a reason I didn’t go to law school!

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