Recently, Dentons announced its NextTalent initiative alongside its NextLaw Labs brand to prepare its workforce for the next generation of lawyering.
The endeavor is bringing together many discrete concepts — emotional intelligence, mindfulness, behavioral economics, and skunkworks — to better develop the next generation of best-in-class talent. Claire Errington, Global Client Director at Thomson Reuters, recently sat down with Joe Andrew, Dentons’ Global Chair, and Jay Connolly, the firm’s Global Chief Talent Officer, to discuss the initiative and why Andrew thinks it will be the biggest thing Dentons has ever done.
Crafting the Vision for NextTalent
The thought process behind crafting the vision of NextTalent involved asking a couple of simple questions: What do next-generation lawyers desire from their professional endeavors? And, what does the lawyer of the future look like?
For Dentons, that meant knowing “what are we doing to prepare them.” Noting that people are going to “continue to be the differentiator in organizations looking forward and advances in technology will continue, the critical part of the legal workflow will be the human interactions and the humanity that we bring,” states Andrew. “We know today that life-long learning is a part of what we should all be expecting and engaging in, and therefore, how we grow and develop is a key focus for us within our culture and something that sets us apart from our competitors.”
As a result, Andrew and Connolly knew the firm needed a leap forward, instead of embracing incremental change over time. The pair pushed this strategy because they knew that how lawyers are developed today will be vastly different from how they are developed in 2030 or 2040 to meet the needs of the future. To that end, Andrew and Connolly determined that using “behavioral science and behavioral economics — the data-driven science coming from the fourth industrial revolution connecting the mechanical world and the data and digital world to the biological world — were the foundation of the initiative” with enhanced interpersonal skills emerging as a key skill for the future.”
Dentons sees its NextTalent initiative filling the need with a focus on emotional intelligence as the pathway to develop this skill area. Obviously, the next generation of lawyers needs to be tech-savvy and comfortable with all the new technology. It is also a prerequisite that the next generation of lawyers be globalists and adaptable to working with different people from different backgrounds and different cultures from across the world.
“Lawyers are smart by definition, and they all have high IQ, but what they really need in the next generation is high EQ [emotional intelligence],” Andrew adds.
Polycentric Operations Driving Radical Innovation via Skunk Works
Andrew elaborates on the execution of NextTalent in different geographies and how it is applied via the firm’s polycentric approach to its business model. “In order to have lawyers that are more emotional intelligent, we’re taking the learnings from the new behavioral science and behavioral economics, and applying them through skunkworks which, again, is looking for best practice with different lawyers in different places,” he says.
Using the skunkworks methodology is core to NextTalent because of Dentons’ polycentricity. Indeed, the firm has a presence in 79 countries, operating in different cultures across the world. Moreover, how emotional intelligence is understood in different cultures varies. “We can experiment with different programs and see how they interact with different cultures given that what a lawyer does is defined differently in different places,” says Connolly. “What defines a successful lawyer and what clients expect can change from one country to another.”
In terms of execution, Connolly explains that Dentons is piloting several learning projects in different countries because the lawyers themselves are the “customers.” In addition, the firm is relying on expert external perspectives to execute each pilot. For example, Connolly describes how the firm is using a few different assessments in emotional intelligence to help individuals understand where they are today and provide insightful possibilities on where they can improve.
Mindfulness is another area the firm has identified that could help their lawyers. “We have been piloting a number of mindfulness programs, including a longer eight-week program, that measures how the different approaches in practicing mindfulness impacts the long-term viability of the habit and the overall impact mindfulness has.”
Dentons is also focused on teamwork and collaboration. It is running video case studies from different environments; for example, looking to the airline industry to analyze how teams work together in the cockpit. “We’ve done a lot around cognitive biases and understanding how we as individuals make decisions,” Connolly states. “The assumption is that we make decisions rationally, but the data tells us that we don’t. Thus, we are looking at how the biases impact decision-making and team performance.”
How Gen Y & Gen Z Lawyers are Shaping NextTalent
The biggest paradigm shift underscoring NextTalent is around leadership and engagement. Current firm leadership is not assuming that it has all the answers and is actively engaging its early career lawyers and others to tell them what is needed. For example, early observations showed that the development of lawyer talent will be far-more tailored than what has been used in the past. In fact, a couple of junior associates from the firm’s Vancouver office had reached out to Connolly about the emotional intelligence programming to share their feedback, and in another example, “the learning outcomes from a coding pilot in Asia have been greatly influenced by Gen Y and Gen Z lawyers there,” says Connolly.
Dentons is investing heavily in this initiative to ensure its own sustainability for decades to come and to retain the best talent to provide the best service. “It is odd that we’re all spending tens of millions of dollars on new tools and new technology for the legal talent we have, but we’re not spending even more on finding ways for these lawyers and professional staff to find more fulfillment in their jobs,” Andrew notes.
Connolly agrees. “I want our talent to wake up in the morning and think, ‘I love coming to work. This is where I want to be.”