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Innovative Hiring Strategies & Emerging Skills in Law: A Conversation with Amy Tenney Curren and Steve Gluckman - Pt 1



Welcome to our two-part series on the evolving landscape of hiring and skill development in the legal industry. In this FLUSA interview series, we delve into innovative strategies and emerging competencies shaping the future of law firms. Join us as our Alexandria Cordova, marketing executive, sits down with some of our FLUSA industry leading speakers for this insightful discussion.

Amy Tenney Curren, Senior Director of Attorney Learning & Development at Morrison Foerster LLP, spearheads initiatives aligning attorney development with strategic goals. With a background spanning law firm partnership and law school leadership, she leverages expertise in legal tech and client-centric approaches to foster innovation and shape the future of legal practice.


Steve Gluckman, CEO and Co-Managing Partner of SkillBurst Interactive, leads the world’s premier digital learning company for law firms. As author of "Elearning for Law Firms" and a Harvard Senior Fellow, he's recognized as a trusted advisor in legal professional development and a pioneer of legal microlearning.


Whether you're a legal professional, a hiring manager, or simply curious about the future of law practice, this interview series offers valuable insights into navigating the dynamic world of legal recruitment and professional development.



 

Can you provide examples of innovative hiring strategies that private practice firms are implementing to align with the evolving landscape of the legal industry? How do these strategies reflect a proactive approach towards fostering an innovative culture, and what specific qualities and skills are being prioritized in potential hires as a result?


SG: While I believe the obvious answer here is that we're looking for candidates who can navigate the tech-heavy landscape with tools like AI-driven legal research, document automation, and data analytics, there's more to the story. Firms are also valuing professional skills like emotional intelligence, critical thinking, empathy, listening, and persuasion more than ever before. And as technology, especially generative AI, becomes more integral in law practice, the personal touch in client interactions and legal procedures is becoming increasingly important. Firms that highlight these qualities in their hiring criteria are likely to see greater success from their new hires. In addition, the way we develop these skills in lawyers is undergoing significant changes, partly due to the rise of generative AI and a shift away from traditional apprenticeship models. Because, if senior lawyers can rely on these new AI tools rather than junior associates when reviewing those 10 million documents or creating the first draft of that brief, then we'll need to find another way to get new lawyers the real-world experience they require to grow, and the repetition, the practical application, the trial and error that is critical for lawyer development but increasingly absent from practice. So, these hiring strategies are important because they not only respond to technological advancements and changing industry practices, but also ensure that new hires are well-rounded, embodying both technical proficiency and essential interpersonal skills, which are vital for effective client interactions and overall legal practice success.


ATC: That's great, Steve, and I really appreciate what you were talking about in terms of how do you make sure that with GenAI, we're able to train those trained attorneys to make sure that they're ready to provide client advice and ready to be the attorneys that clients are expecting. It's something that I have been grappling with as I've been thinking about how GenAI is really going to take hold in the profession, and I have a feeling we're going to be talking about this a lot on the panel.


In my view, hiring, above all else, is critical.  You need to bring the right people in the door.  That will be difficult as client needs and the practice will change.  We just don’t know today what  technological and substantive and lawyering practice skills attorneys will need.  But we do know that they will need the professional skills that Steve mentioned because that speaks to their capacity for being able to shift in a changing legal environment.   Attorneys  who have a more advanced knowledge or appetite for professional skills, who are adaptable, who have growth mindsets, and who are willing and interested to think about how the industry is evolving are poised for success.   Hiring people without that growth mindset, like those who want to rely on a model that hasn’t changed much for many decades, will be the death knell for many firms.


In terms of how to do that, many firms are using many innovative approaches.  The best ones flow from  the concept of a strategic and thoughtful talent lifecycle. When you think about where an attorney falls in the talent lifecycle, that person’s development needs to be  part of an overall strategy.  At Morrison Foerster, for example, we have everything tied around the talent lifecycle called MyMoFo. That is where we define competencies – which  we call success profiles – to explain to our attorneys what it means to be successful at different levels.  MyMoFo then feeds into every other aspect of the talent experience from recruiting through being an alum so that we can ensure that people not only know what it is that's expected of them, but that we're giving them the training tools and the developmental tools to continue to grow and innovate, while providing exceptional and responsive client service.  With respect to the hiring piece, many firms are starting to use assessments in hiring to care what those expectations are in the competencies to what the candidates can provide through psychometric assessments and other tools.


SG: Absolutely, Amy. I completely agree with what you're saying, and I think the approach you're taking at Morrison Foerster is fantastic. For years, firms have operated with competency models that include core competencies and functional competencies with core competencies split into two categories: technical legal skills and professional skills. I think we're realizing as an industry now that these professional skills are just as important as legal skills, and that they should also inform the hiring decision. It’s becoming even more apparent that, based on generational differences and the change in the workforce, along with significant changes in technology, that these professional skills are becoming increasingly vital. It's clear that a holistic approach to recruiting, which values both sets of competencies, is not just beneficial but essential for future success.


 

Beyond traditional legal skills, how are private practice firms investing in the development of emerging competencies such as legal technology, data analytics, and client-centric approaches? Could you share some initiatives or programs aimed at nurturing these skills within the organization, and how do they contribute to driving


ATC: What you've hit on here is really the name of the game:  how do we take the concept of training and development outside this  really narrow bucket of what lawyer training has traditionally been? When you look at continuing legal education guidelines for most of the US jurisdictions, the requirements are really narrow in terms of what qualifies and what it means to be a competent lawyer. There's often a professional responsibility credit requirement. A couple of states have wellness or leadership credits, but for the most part, courses that satisfy CLE requirements fall within traditional substantive areas of the law. And not to say those aren't critical – they most certainly are – but this shift of enabling lawyers to embrace lifelong learning in professional skills can be challenging as you have to be able to quickly and confidently show the value proposition for how it will help their career beyond just checking the CLE box and beyond just saying “this is what I must do to retain my license.”


Some of the things that we're doing are using different methods of social and emotional learning in terms of thinking about that growth mindset, again thinking about how we can provide more professional skills training for attorneys so that they think about problem-solving, communicating, client service, and their careers more holistically than they might if they were just focused on more traditional legal developments. We also are investing quite a bit in legal project management including through a comprehensive training program for our attorneys on legal project management.


And that's another big shift because, I could say back from when I was in law school, we learned about the theory of law.  We weren't learning how to be tactical and to provide strategic business advice and to think about how things all fit together. And so when you see, “successful” lawyers continue to ascend in their careers, it's because they figured out how to think like the client, how to work with the client to anticipate their needs, and how to help solve the client's problems – and oftentimes the practice of law in its most narrow sense could be removed from that. To meet the client where they are and provide them exceptional legal advice and client service, we are reimagining what it means to train and develop lawyers. 


SG: Absolutely, Amy. And emerging competencies are exactly that—emerging and dynamic. The way we address these competencies today will inevitably differ tomorrow. So, implementing adaptable programs that are easy to update is essential. The traditional, long-form classroom handouts (and even CLE-based approaches) just aren't cutting it anymore when it comes to keeping up with these new skills. We need to be more agile. Training methodologies have drastically shifted and must continue to evolve to keep pace with these changes. I've noticed some innovative firms are creatively tackling this. They're allowing credits towards billable hours targets for time spent on important skills training. However, if we expect our lawyers to engage in these activities, they need extra hours to meet their targets, which is a significant challenge to get the necessary engagement. In response, many firms are exploring more efficient and effective ways to provide training. We're moving away from just-in-case, long-form classroom training to shorter, scenario-based digital learning that’s more interactive. This approach not only delivers the content more quickly but also allows these resources to be available as just-in-time learning within the workflow. Considering we're dealing with the TikTok generation, training sessions that used to take hours have now been condensed into microlearning segments—sometimes as short as 30 to 60 seconds. So, the people we're training, what we're training on, and how we're training them is changing - dramatically. And the competencies themselves are anything but static. Thus, we need to be as agile as possible to prepare our lawyers to face clients and get them client-ready across various disciplines efficiently and effectively.


ATC: The structure that Steve is talking about dovetails really nicely with how the law school market has been changing over the last decade. Just as with the norms of legal practice,legal education didn’t change much for many decades. But over the past several years, there has been more of a focus on experiential learning in law schools mandated by the American Bar Association. There's more of a focus on identifying what learning objectives are and how courses are supposed to meet the learning objectives, again mandated by the American Bar Association. So when you think about the future lawyer who comes into a firm, they're not going to be expecting what the lawyers of years past have expected. Shaped by their own law school experience, today’s newest lawyers are already expecting a much  much more dynamic learning experience that will help them be much more proactive in designing their own career trajectories to the benefit of the legal industry.  That expectation will only continue to grow.



Thanks for exploring the evolving landscape of legal hiring and skill development with us. In this series, we've uncovered innovative strategies and emerging competencies shaping the future of law firms. From technical proficiency to essential interpersonal skills, insights from industry leaders highlight the importance of embracing change and fostering innovation for success.


Join us for part two on May 10th as we delve deeper into these crucial topics.










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