New Release: Professional Development in a Pandemic

The NALP Foundation and the National Business Institute (NBI) announce today the release of their joint study, Professional Development in a Pandemic, an in-depth look at the impact of COVID-19, civil unrest and economic crisis on U.S. law firms’ professional development and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

The study explores how these three factors – both in combination and individually – affected leading firms’ PD and DEI efforts, providing critical information on innovations and best practices, including those that may extend beyond the pandemic, as well as offering analysis and benchmarking for law firms and other professional services organizations going forward as they navigate a post-pandemic marketplace.

With 86 leading law firms of all sizes and from all U.S. regions participating, Professional Development in a Pandemic provides both robust empiric data and narrative responses for a holistic view into firms’ responses to COVID-19, civil unrest, and economic downturn. The report also offers intriguing insights into what worked and what didn’t – from virtual programs, engagement, and connectivity across attorneys and offices, to law firms’ creative solutions.

Among the key findings:

  • Nearly three-fourths (73%) of firms implemented new programs to specifically address racial injustice and civil unrest as a result of the resurgence of Black Lives Matter and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others.
  • 43% of firms reported they redeployed staff or attorneys to work on DEI efforts and initiatives.
  • The majority of firms (71%) reported the pandemic, civil unrest, and economic downturn did not impact their work allocation processes.
  • Nearly half (48%) altered the content or format of associate performance evaluations, primarily as a result of COVID-19.
  • Firms cited mental health and well-being (54%), and relationship development and maintenance between partners and junior associates (52%) as top challenges.

“Professional Development in a Pandemic provides unique insights into both the aggregate and individual impact of these three critical factors on the legal profession during this historic time,” said Fiona Trevelyan Hornblower, President and CEO of the NALP Foundation. “And intriguingly, throughout the data, an overarching theme emerges of a profession frequently seen as slow to innovate or change instead dynamically engaging with the pressing issues of the day,” she said. NBI Director Lee Ann Enquist, agreed: “NBI was thrilled to partner with the NALP Foundation on this critical research to uncover and disseminate best practices for organizations across a wide geographic and range. In what may be 2020’s key lesson, the study revealed distinct advantages for those firms embracing action, innovation, and adaptation.”

The NALP Foundation and NBI are deeply grateful to the project’s Advisory Group, whose insights and expertise were critical to the study’s success:  Jane Williamson, Senior Director of Attorney Talent, Ropes & Gray; Milana Hogan, Chief Legal Talent Officer, Sullivan & Cromwell; Angelique Hager, Director, Diverse Talent & Firmwide Training, Orrick; Allison Blixt, Director, Professional Development, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; Melissa Berry, Director of Professional Development and Diversity, Lane Powell; and Bryant Garth, Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus, University of California Irvine School of Law and NALP Foundation Trustee. 

The full report (in both PDF and hard copy versions) is available for purchase from the NALP Foundation at

Media Coverage

How law firms reacted to racial injustice and the COVID-19 pandemic (ABA Journal, March 2, 2021)

How lawyer professional development went virtual, and why some programs fall flat (American Lawyer, March 2, 2021)

NBI Blog: Q&A with Fiona Trevelyan Hornblower (NBI, March 4, 2021)

How Law Firms Shifted Their Professional Development, DEI, and Anti-Racist Initiatives During COVID-19: Top Takeaways from the NALP Foundation's 2020 Law Firm Study (Above The Law, April 19, 2021)

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