DO THE WORK, GET THE WORK !
Once in a while, a newly admitted attorney asks for career advice or job leads. For many years, I didn’t pay attention to most of these requests since I am in a similar situation. But lately, I have been reading them more closely. I pay particular attention to those who are not afraid to explain their circumstances.
After hearing their stories in person and online, it seems that young lawyers today are just as lost as we were when we graduated. They too are struggling to find a job. They have been misled, ignored, or given the same generic advice they have heard a million times before.
Having been there myself, I know what they want: Their big break.
For most, their big break is getting the job at the firm where they actually want to be working. So how do you help them? It depends. You may have to do some mentoring. You may have to bring them to conferences and social events. You may have to introduce them to the right people (but try to avoid blind introductions).
To those who think doing the above is a major time suck with a questionable rate of return, I don’t blame you, particularly when it comes to mentoring. In larger firms, mentoring is encouraged, or even mandatory for training new associates. Since they are working in the same firm, it is in the partners’ best interest to mentor in order to minimize mistakes. But for solos and small-firm lawyers, you are pretty much training your competition. So why do it?
I think people are being paranoid about the fear of training their competition. I found that most young attorneys do not want to compete with established attorneys on business unless they absolutely have to. They want to collaborate first and usually for several years before going on their own. And they will almost always turn to the people they believe are knowledgeable and honest. Yes, there are a few bad apples but if you have been in the business long enough, you should be able to detect them.
I should say that helping young attorneys is the morally right thing to do but talking about what is morally right is a bit of a downer because it’s usually unprofitable. So let’s look at a few selfish reasons for helping young attorneys.
First, the person you help will be grateful for life. We tend to remember our first milestones in life — our first kiss, our first trial, getting the first job that we don’t like but do anyway as a stepping stone, and getting the first job that we really wanted. With a few exceptions, most will remember your good deed, even if things don’t work out. They will think of you first when referring out conflict clients or the “cheap” ones who can only pay a $25,000 up-front retainer. And they may not ask for referral fees. And what if they become judges or top government officials? I’ll let you read between the lines on that one.
Also, it thins your future competition. But if you are a 10-year+ veteran attorney and see a new bar admittee as competition, it sounds like you need to step up your game.
Third, it is a great ego boost. You see, when employers (especially top law firms) are constantly hiring your protégés, you should see it a reflection of your greatness as a lawyer and as a person. And if you are known for being a “feeder” to prestigious law firms, a few law schools may even offer you a very lucrative position.
Finally, I like to think that most attorneys eventually want to leave a positive legacy. Some have earned a fortune and now are more interested in giving back. Others have lived an empty and shallow life and so helping others is their only chance at salvation.
Does this mean helping everyone? Of course not. You can’t be everything to everyone. Start with one or two that leave a good impression on you. But more importantly, help those you actually can help or introduce them to someone who can.
As we enter 2017, I hope that influential attorneys will make an effort to help younger lawyers get their big break. Especially those who do not fit the traditional mold but show potential. It should not require a substantial time investment and it does not have to be about training the competition. But if you take the right people under your wing and genuinely care about their success, it may end up paying substantial dividends in the long run.
Shannon Achimalbe was a former solo practitioner for five years before deciding to sell out and get back on the corporate ladder. Shannon can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and via Twitter: @ShanonAchimalbe.