Future Leaders Programme at Gowling WLG

Gowling WLG is a sector-focused international law firm, with more than 1,400 legal professionals in 19 cities worldwide, across UK, Canada, Continental Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The firm has in-depth knowledge and expertise across multiple sectors, including energy, financial services, life sciences, natural resources, infrastructure, government, real estate and tech.

Challenge

Gowling WLG wanted a programme targeted at senior high performing lawyers who were ideally 24 months away from a potential Partner role and who would benefit from a clear analysis of their strengths and development needs and thus plan their next career move based on this information and a robust personal development plan. They wanted to provide a more structured path of career development for fee earners, and greater clarity in terms of what is expected (in terms of skills, behaviours and abilities) of prospective Partners.

At the time, there were limited means within the firm to assess an individual’s readiness for promotion, their personal aspiration/values/commitment and also whether they had strong future potential. Decisions on promotion were often arbitrary and made by partners with a vested interest in seeing candidates progress and there was very little objective assessment or ‘ownership’ by fee earners of their career progress and development.

The objectives of this two-day programme were therefore to:

  • Enable the firm to gain a measure of the quality of its talent pipeline.
  • Support participants in understanding and taking ownership of the development required to become a new Partner.
  • Help participants (and sponsors) focus on appropriate development.
  • Provide clarity on the demands of a Partner role.
  • Enable participants to reflect on their future career options.
  • Inform and enhance our Partner promotion decision making process.

Solution

Gowling WLG partnered with Pearn Kandola to design the Future Leaders Programme over a number of months, creating a Partner Faculty early on in the process to ensure that partners were involved in the design and flow of the two days. Pearn Kandola interviewed each member of the Partner Faculty in order to understand the types of issues that partners deal with on a day to day basis to help them develop the materials for FLP. As part of that process, they were asked questions about the future, how the legal landscape might change and how partners might need to adapt/respond to that. The key messages that came out of that, and which underpinned the design of the programme were:

  • That lawyers needed to see themselves as business advisors.
  • That leadership in a law firm requires a diverse range of skills but one of the most important traits is the motivation to lead.
  • Future leaders will need to understand the impact of technology and automation and develop/deliver client propositions that offer both a commoditised service and bespoke high value-add work.

Following consultation with the broader partnership, a pilot programme ran in October 2019 for the senior lawyers with aspirations and potential to progress to Partner. The programme provided an opportunity for participants to be observed in action across a number of different business scenarios (that had been designed in consultation with our partners to ensure they were realistic) in order to understand what they do well, where they need to improve in order to be a successful Partner at the firm. A personal development plan identified their areas for development. Partner observers worked with actors and Pearn Kandola consultants to assess participants’ performance against these business scenarios. At the end of the second day, each participant received a report containing feedback and helpful insight into the areas on which they need to focus in respect of people and team leadership, strategic and problematic client handling, business development and financial/practice management – in effect the ‘personal case’ benchmark for promotion to partner.

These individual reports were shared with participants’ Team Leaders and we encouraged both parties to sit down together and discuss (i) the feedback in the context of the individual’s aspirations to become Partner and relevant timescales, and (ii) the primary areas identified for development and how the Team Leader might continue to support the individual within the team/practice.

Participants were asked for their feedback, both in terms of the programme itself and what development they would like to prioritise as a result of attending. Pearn Kandola then ran several follow up programmes for the FLP cohort during the last quarter of 2019, based on what was in their individual Personal Development Plans and what they said they needed at this stage in their careers. Workshops included: Presentation Skills, Overcoming Resistance, Impact, and Smarter Client Conversations. These were all well attended and received positive feedback.

Results

Implementation of the programme has initiated a culture shift within the firm towards greater transparency, fairness and objectivity in respect of career development and promotion decisions and a higher expectation that individuals will take more ownership of their personal development and career progression.

Consultation and listening was especially important to developing an effective programme and we are pleased to have received positive feedback from our future leaders who have utilised the programme.

As a move towards more openness and transparency, the firm also developed the Future Leaders Information Hub as an accessible place for fee earners to find useful information about the FLP itself, but also the partner promotion process, what it means to be a partner in terms of employment status, benefits, profit share etc., and partner insights & advice. It has been well received and used.

The feedback received from participants and partner observers has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I just wanted to drop you a quick line to thank you for organising the FLP. Whilst I can’t deny that I found it tough (!), it’s the first real leadership training that I’ve been part of and it’s given me some real clarity on the partnership application process and has allowed me to really drill down into those areas which I need to focus on over the next 12 months. That’s really invaluable and it’s great to see the firm investing in this sort of training”.

“The FLP has been one of the best courses I have been on in my 23 years with the firm”.

“This programme is a really high quality event and a game-changer in terms of quality for us”.

“Just wanted to say what an excellent course. I wish I had had something similar when I was a Principal Associate”.

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