By Susan Smith Blakely • May 31, 2018•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector
Sometimes you just read something that you know is wrong. Not just wrong, but Wrong, Wrong, Real Wrong.
Well, that happened to me just the other day. I was reading the Above The Law blog, and I came upon an article captioned "Why Today's Seasoned Lawyers Shouldn't Mentor Newbies." Because I have written so much on mentoring, including in my new book to be released this summer, the article immediately interested me. In that new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers), I argue that young lawyers want more --- not less --- attention from senior lawyers. I argue that it is the isolation and lack of community on the job that plagues young lawyers the most and that it can so easily be remedied by senior lawyers showing interest in the practices and lives of the young professionals around them.
So, what possibly could lie behind the proposition that seasoned lawyers shouldn't mentor "newbie lawyers"? Where else are newly-minted lawyers going to get information on proper courtroom decorum, how to conduct themselves at the settlement table, what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a deposition, when it is OK to call the judge's chambers, what is appropriate interaction with clients, how the law firm makes profits, what are the most effective ways of generating new clients .... and the list goes on and on and on?
Those things are rarely taught with any degree of effectiveness in law school --- and typically only to those students, who are brave enough to take a trial practice clinic. For most students it is just too risky and humiliating to have a judge scream at you in the courtroom when your trial practice advisor is watching and you have eight credits on the line. It is much easier to concentrate on memorization and writing a killer exam in a traditional classroom course.
Even law firm summer associates have little time or opportunity to learn much about the actual practice of law because time in those positions is fleeting and the law firms are far too busy wooing the law students to come over to their side. Acceptable behavior during a deposition is frowned on as good conversation at pool parties and concerts.
And mid-level associates are too busy billing hours and proving themselves worthy of selection to partnership to have any time to impart knowledge to "newbie" lawyers. Add to that the problem that a lot of mid-level associates also do not have the necessary level of knowledge to impart.
So, by my calculation, that leaves seasoned lawyers as the desirable mentors. It seems so obvious. The flimsy support for the proposition of the Above The Lawarticle is that seasoned lawyers are so out of touch that they still are recommending that young lawyers get involved with bar associations for networking opportunities and that seasoned lawyers cannot possibly relate to a world where women's issues and work-life attitudes have evolved and where commoditized work has an appeal. Really.
Even if some seasoned lawyers prove to be a little out of touch on a few of these issues, the premise of the article is much too broad. Seasoned lawyers have a wealth of knowledge on substantive, procedural and business issues, and there is no reason to stridently throw the baby out with the bathwater by dismissing them as unfit mentors. In fact, most young lawyers should be so lucky as to have seasoned lawyers take interest in them and their careers.
The Above The Law article goes too far. You can skip it! Maybe Above The Law should have skipped it, too.
Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law. She is author of Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another. Her third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar: Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuess on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.
Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.
Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), Law.com, DC Spotlight, Lawyerist.com, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, Law.com and Huffington Post Business. Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division. She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law, and she is the recipient of a Lawyer Monthly Women in Law Award 2016.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and is certified as a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy. For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com.