Kudos to Steven Harper on an excellent post on his Belly of the Beast blog in which he calls attention to the growing mentoring gap in many large law firms today. Harper cites Peggy Noonan’s recent Wall Street Journal column in which she laments the lack of adult supervision of America’s young professionals and politicians who rise through the ranks seemingly bereft of the wisdom of elder statesmen in their professions.
In his July 26 post, Harper adds to Noonan’s always-keen observations with his own prescient spin on the legal profession. Harper writes that “the phenomenon flows directly from the dominant MBA- mentality that forces firm leaders and everyone else to focus on short-term metrics” like billable hours and profits per partner. He goes on to say the focus on such metrics leaves little room for the personalized mentoring that “turns good young lawyers into better older ones.”
As Harper suggests, this does seem to be the new norm, but despite the bleak-sounding picture, all is not lost. Young lawyers can still get the mentoring they need – they just have to be more enterprising than did previous generations of lawyers. Basically, they have to be self-starters: focusing on areas of law that most interest them, borrowing legal books and reading them, asking for help whenever they need it, and finding their own mentor rather than waiting for one to step forward.
Young lawyers should also pursue with gusto the many educational opportunities available through the American Bar Association, state bar associations, CLE International and a host of other organizations. For example, the Litigation Institute for Trial Training, which I started in conjunction with the ABA’s Section on Litigation, holds an annual intensive two-day trial training experience in Chicago every July with a group of outstanding trial lawyers and jurists from around the country. This is just one of a myriad of educational opportunities waiting to be explored.
There will always be partners in law firms who say – either in words or in body language – that they are too busy to mentor a young lawyer, but there are just as many happy to guide associates who show enthusiasm for their profession and who strive to hone their legal skills. My advice to those just starting out: be your own advocate.