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Learning and development for US first-year associates

January 2023: "Learning the craft of being a lawyer starts from your first day at the Firm," explains Americas Learning and Development Manager Liza Yeres. "Much of that will happen on the job, but we also offer a really extensive program for all of our first-year associates. It's delivered in multiple ways: in person; online; via external experts; or from some of our most senior partners." 

It all starts week one during the Foundational Milestone ("FOMI") program; "First off, we cover the basics of onboarding: payroll, benefits, how to use our IT systems, and so on. Then we have a schedule of practical skills and learning sessions that are designed to set our first year class up for success. This includes introductions to Firm resources, on-demand training, technologies and how-to sessions, like how our billing system works." It's also a chance for new lawyers to get to know the Firm better. "They're introduced to our pro bono practice, learn about ethics and professional standards, and get to know our affinity networks and our wellness resources."

Liza recalls one of the most well-received sessions of the most recent FOMI program. "We ran a session on how a law firm makes money. One new associate even said it was the highlight of the week! If you're just out of law school, it's super-interesting to see how the Firm generates revenue and how associates fit into the bigger picture."

From FOMI to FYI

After this busy first week of FOMI learning, first-years graduate to the First Year Instructional ("FYI") Program, the first stepping stone on the Firm's milestone program series for all lawyers. "Sessions run at least monthly, and the topics provide our new associates with essential skills to succeed in their first year and beyond," explains Liza.

She says that the curriculum is regularly adjusted to take participants' feedback into consideration, as well as the changing world. "For example, during the pandemic we had sessions on communicating in a virtual world, then that changed to working in a hybrid world, and now we're looking for opportunities to connect and communicate again in-person," she says.

Sessions are a mix of practical know-how (learning how to write clearly or how to read a company financial statement), insight into the Firm (different practice areas, tools and technologies used by lawyers) or focused support on how to work effectively. "We have popular sessions on productivity and time management," says Liza. "It's all about how to manage your inbox, prioritize your workload and get into good habits."

Career development, on-demand support

First-years also get training on how to manage upward and progress their own careers. Liza says that being proactive when it comes to your career is empowering, and the Firm supports associates who want to be in the driving seat of their careers. "Learning how to ask for and act on feedback, or how to set goals is extremely useful."

What if there's a topic, or an area that a first-year wants to know about, that isn't covered in either the FOMI or FYI curriculum? "We know that we give associates a lot of information up front and we don't expect them to remember it all," reassures Liza. "So we have a session called 'Help!' which is an opportunity to cover anything that they might have missed, or want to recap on, or just want to know more about. We're absolutely here to help, and if I can't answer the question myself, I will absolutely be able to connect the associate with someone who can."

Trial academy and more: The White & Case difference

According to Liza, one aspect of White & Case's early-years learning and development offer is the engagement of senior partners with the next generation of lawyers.

"Learning and development never stops at this Firm. One example of what we offer after that important first foundation year are the Trial Academies. These are full two-day programs for our litigators from their third year upwards. Our partners play the role of judges and deliver the pre-Academy lecture series. We have people fly in from across the country to take part in this. Many law firms offer this experience and outsource it to external providers, but it's the enthusiasm of our own people that makes it such a valuable and enriching experience for both our associates and partners too."