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Empowering Summer Associates Through Hands-On Training

Posted by LMA International on Aug 21, 2019 4:30:26 PM

Summer Associates

Interview with Iris Jones, chief business development and marketing officer, McNees Wallace & Nurick

In the summer of 2015, McNees Wallace & Nurick made a move to enhance its business development strategies by empowering summer associates in a new way. In an effort to introduce collaboration and hands-on training opportunities to future lawyers and leaders, a dedicated training program, called The Strategic Collaboration Program for Summer Associates, was put into motion.

In 2017, McNees was recognized for their work with the LMA Your Honor Awards, in the category of Business Development: Coaching/Training. We spoke with Iris Jones, McNees’ chief business development and marketing officer, to learn more about the program, and how other firms can create a similar opportunity for their summer associates.

How did the program get started?

When asked to introduce the concepts of teamwork and collaboration to the summer associates in 2015, I viewed it as an opportunity to engage them in relevant, meaningful and transferable work. In order to introduce the concept and the importance of teamwork to the future lawyers and leaders at the earliest possible stage of their legal careers, this interactive program was designed to encourage full engagement throughout the two-week process. The program culminated into formal 20-minute presentations made by the summer associates to a live audience of dozens of attorneys.

What was the driving force behind creating the program?

We were seeking to provide a meaningful and rewarding experience to the summer associates during their two-month term with our firm. This program afforded them team experience, along with the rare presentation opportunity for each summer associate, working as a member of a team.

What are the main pillars of the program?

The main pillars are:

  • Know your capabilities/strengths
  • Learn your clients’ business
  • Match the needs of the client with the capabilities of our attorneys
  • Determine and analyze the competitive intelligence
  • Present the strategic plan with detailed action items
  • Approach every pursuit with the right team in place
  • Identify already existing internal connections

What did the summer associates do and accomplish through this program?

This training program empowered the participants in the program to provide greater insight, value and services to our firm on strategic business proposals. They received hands-on, strategic business development training and were coached on how to identify opportunities with existing clients or new prospects, how to research and analyze data by using competitive and business intelligence tools, and how to build relationship intelligence through customer relationship management (CRM) prior to pursuing new business.

The Strategic Collaboration Program for Summer Associates was an introduction to teamwork (via kinesthetic learning), which had a direct impact on the firm. The formal presentations enlightened the audience with innovative strategies — some of which that have been implemented firm wide.

Click to Tweet iconUltimately, the attorneys were presented with compelling ideas for acquiring new business, and learned from law students that there is a better way to expand business through teamwork.

What were the benefits of creating this program? What results did you see?

The results of the program have been measured for five consecutive years. It is undeniable that it has resulted in a paradigm shift in the firm’s business development efforts. This training – on the importance of teamwork and how to expand existing business and acquire new clients through collaborative efforts – resulted in the creation of a formal client team program within the firm. The initiative has been gaining momentum over the last four years, and the team program was expanded to include client pursuit teams at the beginning of 2019.

This program also provided firm management and practice group leaders the opportunity to fully evaluate each summer associate’s research, analytical, teamwork and presentation skills. This allowed for greater engagement between the groups, and for the summer associates to receive meaningful feedback to continue growing in their career.  

The greatest outcome was that pursuit teams were empowered to see low-hanging fruit from the fresh and highly motivated eyes of the summer associates, after in-depth research, face-to-face interviews and analysis. Ultimately, the attorneys were presented with compelling ideas for acquiring new business, and learned from law students that there is a better way to expand business through teamwork. Utilizing these tested, strategic and analytical methodologies for targeting potential clients, expanding client relationships and capturing new business is far superior to taking shots in the dark or committing random acts of lunch. 

What is your advice for those interested in starting a similar summer associate’s program of their own? Why pursue a program like this?

Be prepared to offer the most authentic experience possible by providing serious client targets or prospects for summer associates to assess. The full benefit to both the summer associates and the firm is in learning and exploring the likelihoods of capturing new business. The benefit to the firm is to consider new and innovative approaches to business development. The summer associates’ presentations are made before a live audience of attorneys and is also video recorded. The video is shared with each team and utilized in the post-presentation debrief. The takeaway for the key practice group leaders often results in immediate action, as identified by the summer associates. The summer associates return to law school with a sense of great accomplishment and extraordinary pride in making thought-provoking recommendations to the firm and its attorneys.

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Looking for more inspiration from legal marketers across the country? Check past Your Honor Awards recipients here.

Jones_Iris-1Iris Jones joined McNees in early 2015 as the chief business development and marketing officer. Reporting to the chairman, Jones leads the firm’s business development and marketing team in delivering proactive strategy, service and high-level support to the firm and its attorneys. Iris works closely with firm management and members to expand the firm’s business by strengthening relationships with existing clients. 

Iris is also a member of the State Bar of Texas and the Legal Marketing Association (LMA). She was the Co-Chair of the first LMA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force and subsequently served as a Co-Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Shared Interest Group (SIG). Iris has served as a speaker/panelist at numerous LMA Annual conferences and LMA Regional Chapter events, as well. 

Prior to serving as Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer for other AM LAW 100 firms in DC and New York, she practiced law in Texas in both the public and private sectors.


Topics: summer associate program, summer associates, Your Honor Awards

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