While new graduates may be savvy about law, they may not have a clue about how to dress or act in a profession that serves high-powered, conservative clients.

“I watched for years as associates came and went, and as bright and competent as they were, they lacked social and strategic skills,” says Joan Newman, a former partner at Thompson Coburn LLP. “If an associate doesn't look and act the part, the likelihood of his or her success is slim.”

Newman says a light bulb went off in her head late last year and she decided to leave her law career to start an “associate training and development” business teaching young lawyers everything from where their water glass goes, to how to work a room and build relationships.

“It's part of a growing trend called lawyer professional development,” says James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement. “Law firms are throwing a lot of resources into it.”

“Most of these associates are 25-years-old and have never worked in a job like this,” says Susan Bonnell, director of training and development at Armstrong Teasdale LLP. “Often, you have associates who worked really hard in law school, but they've never worked in the professional world. It's the soft-skill stuff that really produces our stellar clients. They really know how to take care of clients.”

In order to provide skill training, firms frequently hire consultants such as Mary Crane, a lawyer and former White House assistant chef.

“I teach good manners to lawyers,” says Crane, who works with more than 125 Fortune 500 companies and law firm clients nationally.

© 2006, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.