A vital part of building a world-class legal team is not only recruiting and hiring great talent, but properly indoctrinating new legal professionals into your legal department or law firm – and also when they transfer into new practice groups or teams. Developing and executing upon a meaningful onboarding process for your new joiners will foster greater inclusivity, enable them to contribute immediately and position them well for future success. During my career I have had the privilege to help train – and be trained by – many outstanding legal professionals. Here are some onboarding best practices for all legal teams:
Own the Onboarding Process
If you work in-house, do not simply outsource your onboarding processes to the human resources team or another group in your organization. While the new employee may of course participate in a company-wide new employee orientation program, the legal department – and the hiring manager specifically – should develop and take responsibility for the onboarding process for the new legal professional.
Deliver a Warm Welcome
When a legal professional joins your team, she/he needs to feel welcome in a new environment. Be sure to craft an email introducing your new legal teammate to your colleagues and clients. The new joiner should also review that communication before it is sent out and perhaps even add any personal information that she/he is comfortable in sharing with others. Senior leaders and colleagues on your team should also reach out directly to the new hire to extend a warm welcome. If you are a large legal department or law firm perhaps the General Counsel and/or law firm CEO/Managing Partner can record a welcome video/email for all new hires. Many years ago when I joined the Accenture legal department I remember being invited to lunch with the then Accenture General Counsel Doug Scrivner just a few days after I started as he happened to be in the Chicago-area traveling for business. That lunch and personal connection with Doug went a long way to helping me feel a part of my then new team. Also be sure to encourage your legal teammates to connect with your new hire via LinkedIn so they can build deeper business relationships.
Develop a Custom Training Plan
I’m a big fan of the National Football League (NFL) – although my beloved New York Giants have unfortunately had several poor seasons in a row. Often times NFL coaches script the initial series of football plays that their teams plan to run on offense prior to the games. Similarly, a hiring manager should develop a training “game plan” for her/his new hire prior to that individual’s first day of work. This plan could be based on a schedule for an initial period – perhaps the new employee’s first month at work – that provides some detail regarding a slate of training and learning sessions that are applicable to the legal professional’s role. This roadmap can also take a forward looking view regarding significant anticipated milestones over the new employee’s first six months or so. You should provide your new hire with a copy of this plan on her/his first day of work and the plan should be flexible enough to adjust as needed.
Involve Your Colleagues
A hiring manager should not train the new legal professional on her/his own. Instead, embrace inclusivity and be sure to actively involve your legal team colleagues to help onboard your new joiner. Providing the new hire with the opportunity to learn from your legal group colleagues enables them to expand their network and helps to break down silos in any legal organization.
Introduction to Key Clients
Please take the time to introduce your new legal professional to your clients. When I have onboarded new teammates I have connected them with our clients from key parts of the business teams and they have graciously taken the time to describe their organizations, roles and responsibilities so that the new legal professional could gain a better understanding of the clients they would be supporting and the opportunities to partner with them to drive positive impact.
Be sure to build in and schedule periodic 1:1s or “check-ins” with your new joiner as part of the onboarding plan that you develop. In my experience, for the first several weeks from my new hire’s first day of work, I would meet at least twice a week for formal 1:1 sessions with them. Also if you are unable to conduct those 1:1s in-person with your new hire because you are not co-located together, be sure to convene such sessions via Skype, Microsoft Teams or other suitable videoconferencing technology so that you can see each other and build a more personal connection with your new teammate.
Don’t Complexify Your Organization
Many organizations – including legal organizations – can have their own unique business, legal and technical lingo filled with acronyms and phrases that are difficult for new joiners to understand. Consider developing a glossary (which is periodically updated) that defines common acronyms, words and other “corporate speak” that new members of your organization will need to understand in order to be successful. In addition, always, always, always look to make your organization, its business, its opportunities and its challenges, super easy to understand for your new hire.
Leverage Leading Technology
Using and investing in the right technology tools can help create a high impact onboarding experience for your new legal professionals. Consider developing an onboarding OneNote that contains a digital collection of best practices that can help make a legal professional’s transition into your legal organization more seamless. Use Microsoft Teams as a way of collaborating, sharing knowledge and consider creating a “readiness” channel in Teams to store content that is of interest to new joiners. In addition, Microsoft Stream is an intelligent video service that enables you to produce and deliver learning and training content that can be easily consumed on-demand by your new joiners anywhere and at anytime.
A great way for new legal professionals to learn is to be a proverbial “fly on the wall” by observing their teammates in action and performing their roles for a period of time. Whether it be sitting in on a contract negotiation session to serving as a “third-chair” attorney in a courtroom to joining other legal professionals for important meetings with clients, always look for opportunities for your new legal teammates to learn by shadowing their new colleagues.
Assign a Buddy and a Mentor
Consider appointing a member of your legal team who is a peer to your new hire that can serve as a “buddy.” The role of a buddy is to be another resource – who is not an immediate manager of the new hire – that can serve as a “go-to” person on a wide-range of matters and help answer common questions and issues that may arise. Also consider asking another member of your legal organization to initially serve as a quasi “mentor” to the new hire that can provide more strategic and career-oriented guidance to the new joiner until she/he can develop mentor relationships on their own within your organization.
Learn from Others
Since other groups internal and external to your organization also need to train and onboard their new hires, be sure to embrace the growth mindset and learn from them. LinkedIn also provides us with opportunities via social media to learn about onboarding best practices for professionals.
Onboarding Feedback Loop
Please be sure to obtain feedback about your new hire’s onboarding experience 6 to 12 months after her/his first day of work – and encourage her/him to be brutally honest about it. Embracing and learning from such feedback can be invaluable to improving the transition of future new joiners into your legal organization.
New Joiner Group
Consider developing a team of legal professionals who have “graduated” from your legal organization’s onboarding process to serve as a “New to Your Legal Organization” group. This team can take the leading in constantly developing new best practices and evolving your legal organization’s onboarding processes on a go-forward basis. Also be sure to rotate legal professionals in and out of this group over time to help ensure diversity of thinking.
Develop a checklist of key items that needs to acquired or be put into process before a new legal professional begins her/his first day of work. Taking care of such matters before a new employee starts her/his job demonstrates your legal organization’s commitment to them. Some of those items may include the following:
- Organization issued laptop, device and/or phone;
- Organization issued corporate card for travel;
- Securing appropriate office space and/or cubicle;
- Organization badge/identification card;
- Any necessary documentation that may be need to be completed by the new hire prior to her/his first day of work;
- Business cards;
- Creation of organization issued email address for new hire; and
- Other necessary human resources-related information.
As we all know the greatest asset of any legal organization is its people. Please be sure to invest in your legal professionals by enabling them to get off to a “fast start” in your legal group.