Developing Great Attorneys

WORK EXPERIENCE

 

What kind of work experience does Farella Braun + Martel offer? 

We offer practical responsibility quickly.  Associates at Farella Braun + Martel tend to get more substantive work experiences earlier in their career because we leanly staff our matters.  Our associates comment that they have received more opportunities and responsibility than their peers at other law firms.  Associates who join us laterally find themselves taking more active roles in strategic planning and case management, and experiencing more direct client contact.

“Most law firms promise substantive experience for junior lawyers in their recruiting materials, but few follow up on that promise.  Farella is one firm that does.  Within two weeks of arriving as a second-year associate, I argued my first motion in court.  By the end of my third year, I had second-chaired a jury trial and argued numerous motions in federal court.  It has been a great change for me to have an active part in determining case strategy, standing up in court, and handling client relationships, and I can't imagine having gotten that much responsibility as quickly anywhere else.” 

“My assignments are challenging:  there are no cookie-cutter deals or ‘busy work’.  I work directly with the partner as a true team, or even take the lead role on deals.  I don’t feel like a subordinate or receive subordinate-type work; I am involved in the strategy and can really take ownership of projects.  I have tons of client contact – with CEOs and CFOs, not just general counsel – and there is a significant emphasis on being business advisors first and foremost.” 

“Working on a ‘leanly staffed’ case didn’t mean much to me until I got here.  But after I arrived I realized how great that is for associates:  I was making strategic calls, working closely with the client, and conducting much of the discovery per a plan that I had created.  And through it all, the partners offered me advice, counsel and a safety net.  And the paralegal staff here is second to none.”

Incoming lateral attorneys are usually assigned to a particular practice group, but they may work on other types of matters in various practice areas as well, depending on their interests and the firm’s needs.  Our Practice Group Leaders and Professional Development Director coordinate work assignments so that our associates obtain the hands-on experiences they need to grow as attorneys.  Because matching our associates’ interests with our clients’ needs benefits both associates and clients, we encourage our associates to talk to partners and the Professional Development Director about the types of work that they’re most interested in.

“There really is no hierarchy here.  Associates work directly with clients and make meaningful contributions from day one.”  

“Farella has a full-time workflow coordinator who manages assignments and matches the right work to the right skill set.  I couldn’t believe how much of a difference it makes to have someone help with these decisions, but it really does.  In addition, having a person available for professional development advice when you need it is fantastic.”

TRAINING AND MENTORING

 

What kind of training and career development does Farella Braun + Martel offer?

Developing our associates’ skills is a cornerstone to our success as a firm.  We have always taken a broad view of the skills that define a successful attorney.  We want our associates to excel in their core legal skills, while also learning how to develop close relationships with clients, become leaders in the community, and make our firm a great place to work.

To clarify how to grow as an attorney in all these areas, we developed written guidelines that summarize the types of experiences and skills we want associates in each of our practice areas to obtain at different stages of their careers.  To assist our associates in meeting those milestones, at the start of each year partners help associates write professional development plans that outline associates’ development goals, and during the year partners collaborate with associates on how they can achieve those goals.

While we pride ourselves on associates’ learning their craft by working side-by-side with partners, we support that with in-depth, continuing education programs.  We invite lateral associates to participate in our Farella 101 courses, which many laterals find helpful with their transition to the increased level of hands-on legal work that they do at our firm.  Other training programs for mid-level and senior associates include public speaking, negotiation, deposition, and trial skills workshops, as well as a retreat for senior associates, where they can learn more about supervision skills, business development, and what it’s like to be a partner at our firm.

“This program was, in a word, amazing.  And I know having the opportunity to try our case to a jury, before a judge with great trial experience, and with the guidance and coaching of many partners at the firm is what made it amazing.  I am grateful for everybody's time and effort and the firm's commitment to its associates.” 

“I am proud to work at a firm that invests so much in its associates.  The top-notch training we receive is always something I tout to our summer associate and lateral candidates, and it was only reinforced during this fantastic training.”

To further hone our associates’ skills and serve our community, we provide associates with approved pro bono opportunities, which count the same as billable work.  We also encourage associates to participate in Bar Association of San Francisco and other professional organizations to increase their substantive knowledge and develop their practices.

Our Professional Development Director designs and manages our attorney development program, which includes training, mentoring, performance reviews, career counseling, and work assignments.  The Director works closely with our Professional Development Committee, which is co-chaired by an associate and partner and is tasked with continuously reviewing and improving our attorney development program.  Because we believe that successful attorneys never stop learning, associates on the committee run our partner review process, in which associates share their confidential feedback about partners’ supervision, case management, and mentoring.  The committee also serves as a forum for associates and partners to discuss firm policies and support the firm’s many team-building and community-service projects.  Our Firm Chair also meets regularly with the committee’s Associate Chair, along with hosting informal, question-and-answer meetings that all associates are invited to attend.

What kind of mentoring will I receive?

First and foremost, the firm believes that mentoring should happen on every case or matter on which an associate works.  Partners are evaluated on the quality of their mentoring, and the firm expects every assignment to be a learning opportunity for an associate.

We supplement the mentoring relationships that develop while attorneys work together with a formal mentoring program.  Every associate is assigned to a mentoring circle—a small group of five or six associates led by a partner who serves as a sounding board and adviser.  These partners help the associates in their circles  write yearly professional development plans of personal goals, advise them how to align these personal goals with the firm’s and our clients’ needs,  and collaborate with them on how to achieve their goals.  Our mentoring circles also foster peer-based mentoring relationships, as each circle includes associates of different seniority from different practice groups; junior associates receive guidance and support from more senior associates, who develop their own mentoring skills in the circles. 

When new associates first arrive at the firm, we assign them a senior or mid-level associate peer mentor.  These peer mentors help new attorneys transition into the firm by regularly checking in with them during their first few months, answering their questions, and helping to introduce them to other attorneys and staff. 

For many years now, we’ve had additional, informal mentoring programs for diverse and women associates.  Our Diversity Committee meets every two months, hosts informal get-togethers for diverse attorneys, and leads an outreach program that helps introduce diverse associates to our clients.  The Women’s Leadership Committee provides mentoring for women associates.  In our “Moms Making it Work” group, working mothers meet to discuss practical ways to continue the firm’s tradition of combining successful careers with happy families.

We support all these mentoring programs by training our attorneys on how to be effective mentors and mentees.  Supporting and encouraging associates to form broad and strong networks of mentoring relationships benefits our firm as a whole by creating a strong foundation for our close-knit culture, collaborative working environment, and tradition of personalized client service.

“Farella Braun + Martel is a firm of great lawyers, but also of great people with a lot more to share than just their legal knowledge.  The fun, friendly and supportive environment at FBM is what makes it a special place.”

CAREER ADVANCEMENT

 

How will I know if I’m on the right track?

We believe that substantive, regular feedback is vital to the development and advancement of our associates.  So we train our partners how to share their informal feedback and our associates how to ask for this feedback.  We encourage a work environment imbued with open communication and continuous learning.

To ensure that associates receive detailed and specific feedback about their work and guidance for their future development, we give two performance reviews each year to our new entry-level and lateral associates, and annual reviews to our associates who have worked at the firm for more than two years.  In these reviews, associates receive detailed written feedback from the partners they’ve worked with, which each associate discusses with two partners, including, generally, the associate’s Practice Group Leader or Department Chair.   In these review meetings, the partners discuss the written comments, solicit the associates input, and confer about goals to focus on in the next review period.

What are my chances of making partner?

Eligibility for partnership is determined on a case-by-case basis.  Over the past five years, nine attorneys have been elected to the partnership, many of whom joined the firm as lateral associates.