Practical information and training
Three out of the four Gen Y lawyers said their law school did not provide them with much practical training or information on how to actually be a lawyer. Interestingly, two of those three had significant clinical experience while in school—but still said they were insufficiently trained for the realities of practice.
“I feel very strongly that law school did not prepare me well for being a lawyer—neither in terms of how to practice, or how to start my career at such a difficult time,” recalls Brian Warens, who graduated in 2011 and works for a firm in a suburb of Chicago. (Full disclosure: Warens is married to Nora Warens, who works in the ABA Division for Bar Services.)
Ciara Vesey, a 2013 graduate who is in solo practice in Iowa’s Quad Cities area and also consults with current and prospective law students, says she found out on her own about the downturn in the legal market. “All of the professors knew of the situation,” she believes, “and no one told us.”
Chad Burton, who is based in Dayton, Ohio, and owns a virtual practice, said he has found helpful practice information from bar associations, particularly the Ohio State Bar Association and the Dayton Bar Association. But the other three Gen Y lawyers we talked to say that if bar associations offer any guidance or mentoring along these lines, they don’t know about it. One, Briana Cummings, a 2012 graduate now working as a social justice fellow in the Bay Area, says she has heard of bar programs that “nominally” offer hands-on training and mentoring, but “I have not been able to find information on either one.”
Says Warens, “Interacting with other practicing lawyers has been key to my learning. I did not find much help from bar associations, and online information was somewhat scattered and inconsistent.”
Vesey says it’s been judges and court administrative staff—not bar associations and lawyers in her area—who have reached out to her the most and offered her the most assistance.
While she’s glad to be getting support from somewhere, she wishes her local bar—or bar associations in general—provided a bit more. “I think it’s up to bars to pick up the slack,” she believes, “to say, ‘Hey, we don’t want you to be unprepared. It’s hurting the profession, and it’s bad for business.’”
All four Gen Y lawyers we spoke with said bar associations’ presence at their law schools was minimal. “[B]ar associations need to move beyond free pizza and memberships for law schools,” Burton believes.
Connection across generations
Burton chaired the young lawyer groups at both his state and local bar. The other three Gen Y lawyers we spoke with expressed limited interest in young lawyer divisions or sections.
“I’m more interested in interactions with seasoned attorneys who have been practicing awhile and can offer me the benefit of their experience,” says Warens, noting that it’s his impression that young lawyer groups are quite separate from the main bar, and that “older attorneys are more interested in keeping to themselves.”
Cummings agrees that to the extent that she has gotten involved with bar associations, she is less interested in young lawyer groups than in “an opportunity to build real relationships with colleagues across generations.”
Vesey is open to the idea of participating in a young lawyers’ group—if its events are convenient and relevant. For example, she was recently invited to a far-away golf outing but says it would be hard to justify driving several hours—especially because she doesn’t golf. She has met and likes the new president of the Iowa State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division, who lives in her area, so she is hopeful for future interactions.
Generally, though, she seeks more connection with other solo lawyers of all ages—and, so that she can get the most benefit from it, she wants that connection to come from her local bar rather than her state bar.
Convenience in time and location
It’s no secret that largely gone are the days when most new lawyers worked for big firms, and those firms expected that their new associates would sometimes leave work to attend bar events. In fact, some of the Gen Y lawyers we spoke with expressed surprise that this was ever the case.
Burton—who notes that he is at the older end of Gen Y or even the younger end of Gen X, and that the economic picture was significantly rosier when he got his JD than it is now—says his first employer “placed a heavy emphasis on bar work” and that this is how he got so involved in it.
Burton has served on the Board of Trustees for the Dayton bar and the Council of Delegates for the OSBA, among other roles, and is vice chair of the ABA Law Practice Division eLawyering Committee. He continues that culture of bar service in his own practice, which he says encourages bar participation and also attracts lawyers who are naturally inclined toward it.
The others, who have started their careers after the recession hit, feel more constrained. “I think geographic convenience is a huge factor in whether attorneys join these associations,” Warens says. “They have to be close, since clients keep us fairly tethered to our desks.”
Cummings says she’s noticed that a lot of bar events are at midday, during the week. She understands that a lot of lawyers want to keep their evenings and weekends clear, but those times would work better for her, preferably with all programming on one day. “I don’t feel like I have a lot of flexibility in the middle of the day,” she explains.
All were receptive to the idea of attending bar events, as long as they are relevant and convenient. Vesey attended and has high praise for a first-ever tech show put on by the Iowa bar at its June 2013 annual meeting; she would love additional bar programming on technology and on solo practice—especially in her area. Cummings will attend the State Bar of California’s 2013 annual meeting in October and is looking forward to “a lot of CLE programs” there.
Similarly, none closed the door on the notion of volunteer service or leadership roles in bar associations—but there are some stipulations. “I’m more interested if I feel like it will have an impact of some kind,” Cummings says, noting that something like “making things better for young lawyers” would be too vague for her.
And even though she’s busy, she wants real connection in any leadership role. “It’s hard to see what a bar committee will achieve if it’s meeting once a month, with introductions via email,” she says. “Even if one purpose is just to meet other lawyers, that’s OK.”
As you might expect, the Gen Y lawyers we spoke with talked a lot about technology. You might be surprised, though, by what particular technology was repeatedly mentioned as among the best things a bar association offers. Hint: It’s not necessarily cutting-edge, and some bars have talked about doing away with it.
“The most valuable thing I gain from [Illinois State Bar Association] membership is the convenient online interaction with other Illinois attorneys on its Listservs,” Warens says, noting that they are “a good place to discuss unique legal issues.”
Vesey has high praise for the Iowa state bar’s Listservs as well, especially when she’s dealing with an area of law in which she has less familiarity. She was pleasantly surprised recently when a question she posted resulted in phone calls from seasoned lawyers who “were willing to spend 45 minutes talking to a random solo lawyer.”
Cummings notes that some lawyers who are active on a Listserv for the California Employment Lawyers Association have branched off into an informal group called the CELA Cabal, which meets once a month to put faces with names and deepen the connections made online. On the Listserv, members will post when they have a trial that less experienced lawyers are welcome to observe.
Speaking of groups that self-organize online and then meet in person, Cummings recently attended and greatly enjoyed a “tweetup” for people on Twitter who have similar law-related interests. And because she lacks a local networking resource, Vesey relies heavily on Twitter as well. “Right now,” she says, “My main mentor is from Atlanta.”
Cummings expressed some reservations about bar associations using Twitter. If you’re going to use it, she advises, “Don’t just blast things out” and fill up people’s news feeds. What sparks a connection, she says, is if individuals interact with each other on a “personal level” and respond to each other directly. She’s less sanguine about bar association Facebook pages, which she considers fairly static.
And don’t forget the basics. Judging from our conversations, the bar website doesn’t need to be fancy, but it must be up to date and well organized. Vesey was recently turned off from a local bar association because its website did not seem as if it’s updated frequently. It only listed one event—and that one was a golf outing.
Both Vesey and Cummings note that email turnaround is also key. Cummings has emailed bar associations about programs before, and “they have not always responded.”
Vesey, who sometimes does client intake via Skype, offers some perspective on herself and her peers: “My generation, we are one of instantaneous results,” she says. “We manage time differently.
“I can work from my phone, my tablet, or my laptop. I have access anywhere, everywhere, any time I want it—and I expect same-day response to email.
“I can respond to email in one day. Why can’t you?”