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Chief Talent Officer Reflects on Building Firm Culture During Covid

Aug. 8, 2022, 8:00 AM

It has been a little over a year since I stepped into the role as chief legal talent officer at Troutman Pepper, a national law firm with more than 1,200 attorneys. As I reflect on the past 12 months, there are a few observations I have made and insights I have gained that might be helpful to those tasked with helping to drive business goals through successful talent strategies.

Create Opportunities for Connection

Creating a collaborative culture has been an especially important objective for our firm, the product of two mid-size firms (Troutman Sanders and Pepper Hamilton) merging during a global pandemic. Working in a hybrid environment can create feelings of isolation that have the potential to make work feel like it is strictly a transactional activity.

It can also stymie efforts to nurture a collaborative culture or acknowledge everyone’s impact on the firm’s success. If people don’t feel connected to, and an integral part of, their team or the firm, it makes it easier for them to leave.

As a result of the pandemic, the newly merged Troutman Pepper had to get creative quickly to connect people and teams, without the advantages of in-person meetings, to ensure seamless collaboration to provide continued excellent service to our clients. That creativity, borne of necessity, has had a lasting impact on how we foster connections as we continue to navigate a hybrid working environment.

It is crucial that retention efforts show employees on a regular basis that their employer is invested in them in ways that impact their day-to-day work life.

At Troutman Pepper, we have recognized that allowing employees the flexibility to work remotely, while also creating opportunities for connection no matter where they are working, is critical to building trust and helping people feel empowered to choose what works best for them and their teams.

Make Career Training and Development Opportunities

Associates today are much more vocal about what they like and don’t like and crave feedback and clear direction. These associates are part of the “social media generation” where opinions are expected (and easier to give or receive).

Associates expect firm leadership and those with whom they work regularly to be interested in—and act on—their suggestions and commentary. They also want unbiased feedback and constructive criticism of their work to better understand where they are in their career development and what skills and qualities they need to enhance.

To ensure our associates are getting comprehensive career information, we have recently launched an individualized professional development program called Troutman Pepper YOUniversity. Combining both firm and external resources, the program offers a holistic approach to training and development by aligning feedback, training, coaching/mentoring, and expectations to empower and better support associates in their development.

The program connects people and resources, and in a firm of our size, especially in a continued hybrid working environment, it is critical to our associates’ work satisfaction that those connections be made intentionally. The program also allows us to keep people connected and communicating across practices and offices enabling the success of the individual, the firm, and outcomes for clients.

Bridge Traditions and Innovation

More than ever there needs to be a bridge between tradition and innovation. Some associates might not remember a time when they didn’t have a cell phone to call, text, or email and the ability to work from anywhere.

They certainly don’t remember when pagers were the new rage and faxes were first accepted as an official form of legal service. I won’t date myself by saying which group I most identify with (I may have had a Rolodex), but I understand the need to bridge these disconnects.

One way we have done that is by enlisting some of our semi-retired and veteran attorneys to mentor and coach associates looking to improve a certain skill, such as legal writing, or delivering a compelling oral argument. Associates can sign up for a coaching session to get valuable perspective and feedback on previous work or prepare for upcoming assignments (with enough advance preparation time).

This 1:1 time is mutually beneficial as associates get feedback specific to them, while veteran attorneys gain new perspectives on what associates find compelling and leverage technology to make connections more efficient and effective.

We also have leveraged technology in delivering training content in new ways. Instead of traditional approaches to creating PowerPoint slides with a lot of text and limited visuals, we have implemented polling features and breakout rooms to encourage small group discussion at appropriate points in training programs.

These interactive methods are small tweaks on traditional training models to keep associates engaged with the material in a way that fosters better learning outcomes. We have also created leadership roles through our associate liaison committee to gather feedback on associate-focused initiatives to ensure we are meeting associate needs and developing stronger connections between associates, partners, and firm leaders.

Looking to the Future

This is a challenging time for those of us in the business of law, but I also have found the past year to be energizing and encouraging.

We have had to be creative and collaborative to reinforce a sense of community that is not centered on everyone being in the office. By working with and supporting one another, while embracing new ways of working, we can all thrive and be successful, even when we don’t always know what is around the corner.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

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Author Information

Sona Spencer is the chief legal talent officer at Troutman Pepper where she cultivates solid relationships with clients, colleagues, and business partners. She utilizes practice management, personnel management, and client development strategies to provide valuable insights and develop strategic initiatives to drive revenue and help organizations achieve their goals.