At Debevoise, we help you build the best possible foundation for your career in the law. We believe that lawyers develop best through a combination of on-the-job work experience and formal legal education programs. Our curriculum today includes an array of over 300 courses offered annually to educate you at every stage of your career. Orientation and introductory programs provide you with “frameworks and tools” for understanding the legal, business, ethical and practical issues and problems you are likely to encounter in your first years of practice. Milestone programs support you as you grow into more senior supervisory and leadership roles. Advanced programs help you keep abreast of developments in your area of practice and continue to hone your skills and expertise.
A Focused Approach to Professional Development
Our education programs focus on the core technical, management and leadership skills that you need to develop to become effective at both basic and advanced levels of practice. The core skills are outlined in a Development Model which provides a compass for our legal education curriculum as well as a common vocabulary for associates and senior lawyers to use in mentoring and feedback discussions. The Development Model was created internally by a team of senior partners and professional development staff who lead the firm’s talent initiatives and ensure our systematic and comprehensive approach to lawyer development.
You will participate in over 100 hours of formal training over your first two years of practice. Our introductory programs provide you with the technical grounding and skills to help get you off to a fast start in legal practice.
Each fall we run a lawyering orientation to introduce you to the firm and the practice of law at Debevoise. Topics include the firm’s culture, basic lawyering skills, diversity and inclusion at Debevoise, legal ethics and how to establish and maintain ethical and effective relationships with clients.
New corporate and tax associates attend a full-time, one-week program led by partners and other senior lawyers covering the drafting and negotiation of acquisition documents and the art of shepherding a transaction from initial negotiations through closing. Our curriculum continues for second-year associates with a series of sessions designed to convey practical, substantive information that every associate should know about various corporate practice topics.
New litigation associates attend an intensive program soon after their arrival, with participatory sessions on the lifecycle of a litigation matter, information management, research and fact development, developing a core theory of a case, pre-trial discovery and lawyer-client privilege, and an introduction to drafting pleadings for litigators. In addition, the litigation department conducts writing workshops, a litigation skills seminar for second-year associates and an in-house trial workshop for more senior litigation associates to build stand-up advocacy skills.
Over the past four years, Debevoise has taken several innovative steps to provide lawyers at every stage of their career with state-of-the-art professional development tools and opportunities. These initiatives are designed to help our lawyers develop and refine not only legal skills, but also commercial knowledge and communication skills.
What sets our development program apart is the degree to which Debevoise’s leadership has placed talent development at the forefront of our business strategy. Members of the firm’s Talent Steering Committee draw together the leadership of numerous aspects of talent development, including Recruiting, Evaluation, Liaison, Training, Diversity and Partner Development Committees. Together, this leadership has analyzed all aspects of talent development at Debevoise in order to identify gaps and strengthen existing programs.
A Shared Understanding of Excellence
We introduced a Development Model (the “Model”) to provide a framework for discussions about professional development. The Model is an articulated set of expectations around skill development across three general areas: technical lawyering skills, management and leadership, and practice experience. The Model recognizes that skills in these areas are developed over time and through a variety of experiences and is designed to provide a common vocabulary for mentoring and evaluation discussions. Associates are encouraged to review the Model as they think about their development and career planning. We also introduced the Professional Development Newsletter, which focuses on the skills outlined in the Model, as do the firm’s evaluation forms, which now track the framework of the Development Model so that associates get feedback in review talks about their progress in mastering those skills.
We have implemented a number of initiatives to improve the level and quality of feedback to associates, counsel, partners and the firm generally.
To improve feedback to our most junior lawyers, we have moved their evaluation process away from a firm-wide evaluation committee made up of partners from all departments to a small group of partners who are responsible for advising those lawyers. This way, partners who know the lawyers best can review their development and provide strategic, substantive guidance as Debevoise associates mature into mid-level and senior lawyers.
Associates, counsel and partners who comprise the Liaison and Diversity Committees provide valuable feedback on programs and associate needs through a formal associate survey every two years and annual small, informal lunches to which all associates are invited and encouraged to share feedback and discuss questions about the firm. The Diversity Committee has sponsored an exciting outside speaker series, and our African-American, Asian and Latina/o affinity groups meet regularly to generate cross-cultural programming that speaks to their experiences at Debevoise. These programs not only provide opportunities for members of the affinity groups to learn how best to navigate successfully their time at the firm, but also facilitate the creation of informal relationships across groups that last throughout their careers.
We also look outside the firm for feedback, surveying a number of our key clients to learn what they most appreciated and most wanted from Debevoise and outside counsel generally. What we learned from these surveys informs our training, evaluation and promotional decisions.
Enhanced Business Skills
New training programs such as business- and industry-specific workshops, cross-cultural competency and comparative law training help our associates develop business skills, as well as critical communications, leadership and presentation skills. Over 400 of our programs are now available in an online library so that training is available when our lawyers have the need and time to access it.
In keeping with the firm’s focus on development, we offer an innovative business education program for new associates. This intensive, three-week course represents a significant investment by the firm in our associates’ finance and business education and an opportunity for associates to develop skills and knowledge important to our clients.
Improved and Flexible Mentoring Options
To increase mentoring options for our litigation associates, we created advising groups comprising of several litigation partners, one or more counsel and approximately 20 associates each. These groups give new associates in particular a group of more experienced lawyers to draw on for mentoring, advice and social activities. The advising groups meet on a regular basis and alternate between professional development topics and purely social gatherings. In addition, we have for a number of years held “Advising Weeks” twice a year when departmental and practice group meetings are canceled to free up time for partners and associates to meet for career planning discussions.
Why We Do This
Our goal in all these programs and innovations is to provide the best professional development environment in the industry so that new lawyers from a variety of backgrounds are empowered to shape their careers, take responsibility for their own development as lawyers and be supported in that journey through training, mentoring and formal evaluation programs.