January 19, 2017

Message from the Chair Elect: What Can We as a Forum Do to Encourage and Groom the Next Generation of Construction Lawyers?

Wendy K. Venoit

Face it, our demographics do not lie.  We are an aging group of lawyers, with not enough “bench” behind us to take our place in the practice of construction law. It is not dissimilar to the quandary that many of our construction clients face when looking at the contracting construction labor pool.  How do we replenish ourselves with people that are knowledgeable and capable?

The first and obvious response is that we need to attract more young and upcoming lawyers into the practice of construction law.  That has been a challenge for many years because “construction” is not an area of the law generally taught at law schools (although there are more and more courses and construction law professors popping up across the country), and many law students and junior lawyers are simply unaware of it. I must admit that I never knew about, let alone contemplated pursuing, construction law when I graduated law school. Like many of you, I simply fell into it when I joined a firm with a construction law practice.

The Forum has taken the mantle of trying to rectify this problem.  In the past three years, the Forum has taken the initiative of reaching out to law schools across the country and sent teams of Forum ambassadors to law schools to educate law students about careers in construction law.  Those efforts have been met with varying degrees of success (largely based on whether we serve food and beverages to the attendees), but overall the feedback has been extremely positive — and law student membership in the Forum has jumped exponentially.

The Forum also initiated the Young Lawyer Practicums at each of its national programs to educate junior lawyers regarding advocacy skills.  These Practicums — taught mainly by senior lawyers with extensive experience as construction advocates — have been remarkably well received and well attended.  We plan to continue those practicums at all of this year’s national programs and beyond. And, of course, the Forum has continued its biannual offering of the Construction Trial Academy which offers a unique opportunity for junior (and even experienced) construction lawyers to hone their trial advocacy skills.

So, what more can you, me and the Forum be doing to make sure that we are growing the next generation of construction lawyers?  Well, we can certainly start with our own law firms / practices by grooming the junior lawyers to not just support our established practices, but grooming them to grow their own. We need to give these junior lawyers the tools they need to be successful in this industry. That means introducing them to clients, having them take construction related CLE, and giving them opportunities to argue motions, take/defend depositions and even take a few witnesses at trial.  Of course, not every associate (or even junior partner) will be ready for all of that, but we owe it to ourselves, our firms and our industry to at least give them the opportunity to grow and succeed.

We also need to show them how to market and develop business — and not just expect that they will learn it through osmosis.  That means encouraging them to get involved in the Forum and trade associations, even if that means forgoing some billable work. We need to help them to identify opportunities, and then encourage them to actually pursue those opportunities without fear of repercussion — perhaps even incentivizing them to do so.  The Forum is a logical home for many of these new “up and comers”, but we need to reinforce that by encouraging them to not only attend Forum events, but to get actively involved in the Forum through committees, writing, and speaking.  And, for those of you who need the “business case” for doing so — tune into the next issue of Under Construction.

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Wendy K. Venoit

Hinckley, Allen & Snyder LLP, Boston, MA