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When it comes to identifying and developing top leadership talent, law firms are way behind the curve. In a survey of large law firms conducted with the research arm of The American Lawyer's parent company, only 20 percent of respondents said they have formal leadership development programs. That's a dismal result, given the prevalence of such programs in other professions.

In 2006 and 2007, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney retained Altman Weil to help develop an ongoing, self-sustaining leadership development program. After reviewing other firms' efforts, corporate leadership programs, university-based programs and external vendors' offerings, we rejected both short-term, off-site, full-immersion programs and "cafeteria" programs of seminars focusing mainly on leadership theory. Participants, generally, found the former to be of limited practical value and that the latter produced only marginal gains in on-the-job judgment and skills.

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Reprinted with permission from the July 9, 2008 issue of The National Law Journal.