By Susan Smith Blakely • September 26, 2019•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector
Millennial lawyers need feedback from supervising attorneys on a project basis --- not just once or twice a year in scheduled reviews. That is well-established. People in positions like mine hear it all the time, and we know how important feedback is to junior lawyers --- especially those who were raised with an abundance of feedback and mostly praise.
What does not get as much attention is the critical failure by law firms to revise review policies and mentoring efforts to meet the feedback needs of young lawyers. As I have stated to law firm and bar association audiences time and time again, that failing is very risky. Young lawyers travel light and will relocate over issues like failure to mentor --- or just plain not showing enough interest in their career paths.
For those senior lawyers whose response is "don't care" --- and I have met some of them --- my response is that they will care after they discover how expensive it is to replace talent.
Nicole Abboud hits the issue square on the head in her recent video on the subject. I like what Nicole is doing as a contributor to the Attorney at Work project, and I also like that she had me as a guest recently on her The Gen Why Lawyer podcast to discuss millennial lawyers. Check out the May 31, 2019 episode on The Gen Why Lawyer website to listen to our discussion.
Nicole is thoughtful and devoted to raising issues that are being glossed over by others in the profession. In this case, she uses her own experience as an associate lawyer to take a deep dive into what it is like to have your work product ignored. Take a look at the video. My guess is that you will be able to relate to the anxiety and damage to self-esteem and confidence about your career choice that result from this lack of feedback. And it is so unnecessary.
Times change. Law practices should do the same. What worked before, does not work now. Even if senior lawyers do not think that the degree of feedback millennials need is necessary, IT IS what millennials need. And the need won't go away. Millennials were raised with an abundance of attention paid to them and in an age of instant gratification made possible by new technologies. They are the product of their times.
Often when I am addressing senior lawyers, who I know are challenged to understand or even appreciate millennials, I remind them of their contribution to the very thing about which they complain. Many of those lawyers are parents of millennials. Bingo! Bring on the March of the Helicopter Parents! They hovered, and they smothered and, yes, they made sure everyone got a trophy. Distancing themselves from the result now seems a bit silly and disingenuous.
Rather than avoid the issue, they should face it straight on and become the leaders we need for a better future. They should park their judgment genes on the office shelf and get busy training a new generation of lawyers who also will become a new generation of law firm leaders. Their numbers alone make that a certainty.
So I say to law firm leaders, pay attention to these young lawyers. Mentor them. Give them feedback. Show some real interest in them. Learn their names, and call them by name. Invite them to lunch. It will take a small amount of effort compared to the potential benefits. And you might actually enjoy doing for these young people what someone did for you in the day.
If you do your job right, it is an investment in the future of your law firm. And the young lawyers of today will be equipped to become the effective law firm leaders of tomorrow.
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, focuses 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 ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight, Lawyerist.com, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman, Law.com, Georgetown Law Magazine, Legal Toolkit Podcast, 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" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016” for her work on behalf of women in the law.
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.