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Perk du Jour--Mini MBA on the Firm's Dime

Vivia Chen

August 9, 2011

HBS You have to give credit to Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom for trying. It doesn't want to be just another big, powerful law firm. It really wants to be liked. In fact, probably nothing would make the firm's partners happier than to hear associates say, "I love Skadden--even though I work like a dog and my chances of making partner are zilch."

Just a week ago, we reported on how Skadden is nurturing its women lawyers--by installing its own official in-house den mother. Now, the megafirm is offering another goody: an eight-week training program, including a mini MBA component (yes, there's a Harvard Business School connection--more on that later) for its newbie lawyers. Launched this past January, the Skadden program will start a new round this fall, when the new crop of first-years arrives.

"The purpose is to give you skills that law school doesn't teach you," says Skadden partner Charles Smith, the head of its attorney development program. First, there will be four weeks of training by Skadden partners on substantive areas. "Every incoming associate will be exposed to all practice areas," explains Smith, "so that a litigator won't be surprised by what goes into a stock purchase agreement." But beyond practical skills, associates will also learn subtleties, like "how to answer a partner's e-mail," says Smith.

Then there's the latest must-have big-firm perk: the mini MBA program. Unlike Milbank's Harvard MBA program, which is held on campus in Cambridge, Skadden's won't involve traveling (except for one week of classes at the New York office). But Skadden's program has a Harvard pedigree too: It's designed by The Fullbridge Program, an executive training company that's packed with Harvard B-School alums and affiliates. (What's with the love affair between Big Law and HBS, anyway?)  Among other skills, novice lawyers will learn the mysteries of "discounted cash flow, basic finance, and Excel," says Smith.

The really fun part of the MBA program is being part of a team working on a nonlegal project, adds Smith. The teams compete against each other; then the winning team gets to do a live presentation in front of Eric Friedman, the firm's executive partner, plus senior partners of Skadden and Fullbridge. Sounds stressful? Nah, Smith assures me: "it's all good-natured competition."

Fun aside, the real question is why Skadden is bothering with this post-law school stuff instead of putting its puppy lawyers to do what they were bred to do: bill? Well, it seems clients might not be so willing to pay for their work. "It helps clients see that we're making an investment in our young lawyers before they show up on the clients' bills," explains Smith. "Clients think it's a good thing because they've had a hard time seeing the value of first-year associates. . . . The Fullbridge program ramps people up when they come through the door."

But it's not just for clients relations, insists Smith: "I know clients view the program well--but that's not why we did it. . . . I hope this sends a message to law students that we care about their development, and they're not just a cog."

So how much is all this costing Skadden? Plenty, though Smith wouldn't divulge the number. He admits, though, that it's a big ticket: "It's a large investment of partner time, investment in Fullbridge, and a lost opportunity cost in associate billings."

But who can put a price tag on love?


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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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