For the first time ever in its history, Harvard Law School has collaboratively launched a program with a law firm for the education and training of associates in the latter.

The School announced a new multi-year training program for providing executive education to mid-level associates at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy over the course of their careers - starting at the end of their third year. Associates will spend eight days on the Harvard campus annually every year thereafter, till they complete the program requirements in the seventh year.

The program, to be called Milbank@Harvard, will be offered on-site at Harvard and will focus on business, finance, law, management skills, client relations and personal professional development, the courses being taught by both Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School faculty in conjunction with Milbank partners. The objective is to develop the multifaceted expertise and skills in Milbank associates that general counsels expect their legal advisors to possess. 

In a release from the School, Dean Martha Minow showcased the new program as part of a continuing emphasis on strengthening the ties between theory and practice, as well as business and law. She also mentioned being excited by the prospect for symbiotic exchanges between Milbank attorneys and Harvard faculty and said, Ultimately, this will benefit our own students, since our faculty will be able to incorporate the latest real-world perspectives into what they teach.

The decision by Milbank to invest in this collaboration has, however, surprised quite a few in the legal fraternity. For one thing, law firms have been increasingly moving away from exclusive tie-ups with academic institutions and handling a major part of executive training and development internally. Secondly, such developmental programs are usually targeted at leadership development whereas the Milbank-Harvard program will cover every associate in the firm and over a period of time.

Speaking to legal sector information portal, Eric Seeger, a consultant with Altman Weil who specializes in law firm strategy pointed out that the decision to put every associate through the same program was surprising since the outcome was unlikely to meet the individual needs of either attorneys or clients. Our experience is that a one-size-fits-all experience is not the most efficient, he said.

However, most agree that the association with an iconic brand such as Harvard and the lure of a multi-year education on its campus is certain to boost Milbank's quotient as far as recruiting and retention are concerned.