Reed Smith revamps associate life with new billing requirements and app-based feedback

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Firm describes the measures as investments in the next generation of leadership that are intended to 'make a big place smaller'


Reed Smith has become the latest firm to direct its attention to the evolving expectations of its younger lawyers, rolling out a new suite of initiatives for associates that includes an app-based feedback process, opportunities to temporarily work in different offices around the globe and a ‘ramp-up’ programme for lawyers returning from leave.

According to the firm’s global head of legal personnel, Casey Ryan, the overhaul wasn’t motivated by a specific focus on millennials, but rather “an acknowledgment that there are some creative and inventive ways to do things differently”.

She added that the firm wanted to “take a fresh look to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to have associates be engaged and progress”.

Many of the new ideas came directly from associates, such as the app that will supplement annual reviews and allow for continuous feedback from every lawyer with whom an associate works.

Casey Ryan

“Associates were asking for more than one piece of feedback a year,” Ryan said.

Through the app, associates can request detailed feedback from their supervisors and routinely schedule check-in meetings. The firm considered entirely abandoning the annual review system, as Hogan Lovells did, but opted against that.

“The value of having a once-a-year formal sit-down seemed too great to let go of, but it needed to be augmented by continual feedback across the year,” Ryan said, calling the firm’s new approach the “best of both worlds”.

Another associate-driven change, which was initially rolled out in a pilot project, allows associates to spend one or two weeks, or potentially more, at any of the firm’s 28 offices around the world.

Ryan said the firm has funded 20 such ”inter-office secondments” for the next year, and associates need to simply fill out a one-page application online. Associates, for example, can travel from Hong Kong to Pittsburgh or London to Washington DC, for the purpose of meeting clients in person or gaining exposure to different elements of the firm’s work.

Reed Smith has also revamped its billable hours credit programme, increasing the ceiling from 120 hours to 140 hours and adding new categories to the existing allowance for pro bono work. Now, associates can earn up to 50 hours for substantive professional development activities such as shadowing a deposition or attending court proceedings, and can get another 50 hours for innovation work.

The firm has already previewed its ramp-up programme, reducing hours requirements for attorneys returning from leave. According to Ryan, the initiative is “reason-agnostic”, applying equally to disability leave, maternity and paternity leave, and other absences.

“It’s just more realistic,” she said. “It eases some of the stress when people come back from work.”

It is also launching a “reverse mentoring programme” – devised by its head of diversity and inclusion in a brainstorming session with associates – that matches diverse associates with senior firm leaders, with associates serving as the mentors and the senior leaders as the proteges.

“I’m one of the participants. It’s great,” said Ryan. “It does give you a different perspective. I think it’s mutually beneficial, but probably even more beneficial to the senior attorney than the junior attorney.”

For Ryan, the new initiatives fit together with other recent measures, such as a firmwide wellness programme aimed at stress reduction and promoting work-life balance, and specific efforts on behalf of working mothers.

“These are all things that make a big place smaller,” she said. “They’re great for morale, and great investments in the next generation of leadership of the firm.”