Dreier, Stein & Kahan LLP: Using Talent Strategy to Bring Back the Law Profession

 -  1/7/08

Not many law firms actively profess to care more about providing excellent client service than tallying up billable hours.

Not many law firms actively profess to care more about providing excellent client service than tallying up billable hours. So, it might take a moment to imagine members of a legal workforce so content they rarely leave to join the competition. In this imaginary law firm, diversity is so much a part of the organization’s day-to-day talent activity that when a newspaper called up to ask about its impressive diversity program, management said, “What diversity program?” But wait. This law firm exists. Stanton “Larry” Stein, partner and head of the entertainment and media department at Dreier, Stein & Kahan LLP, said the aforementioned scenario is just part of the firm’s work model for its roughly 400 lawyers and personnel in Los Angeles, New York and Connecticut.

TM: Describe your company’s approach to talent management.

Stein: First, you have to be familiar with what’s happening in the legal community. We’re the antithesis of what all the big firms are doing now. In the legal community, there is a consolidation of firms that become national and even international, with offices in sometimes 10 or 12 different cities. They’re large conglomerate organizations consisting of 3,000 lawyers or more. Those are structured very much like a business, and not a profession. They hire 100 young associates with the expectation that only two or so will make equity partner, because the only ones that make equity partner are the ones who generate substantial business. Because they’re not going to be partners, most of those large firms don’t particularly care about mentoring or training these lawyers, because if you’re only going to keep two out of a hundred, it’s not cost-effective. They don’t care about their mental health, their personal relationships, physical health. It’s very much a business, and the individual associates are treated as widgets. You make money off the youngest people working very hard, very long hours, and all of the money goes upward.

Our concept is exactly the opposite. We want to bring the practice of law back to a profession, not a business. Therefore, we have as many partners as we do associates. It’s our expectation that every associate can become a partner. Not everyone does, because everyone doesn’t live up to their expectation, but the vast majority of them will become partners. As a result, we must mentor them, care for them psychologically, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We do a lot of different things, like supply free lunch to all the lawyers every day so they can spend time together. We pay for gym memberships so they can exercise. We insist all associates and partners participate in public interest work. All of our partners have to be on the board of directors of some form of foundation or charitable, public service organization. We believe that you can have a midsize law firm and supply the needs of most of the kinds of clients we want to service.

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