As seasoned lawyers, we know that we have a responsibility to mentor the next generation of lawyers in our firm. But have you fully considered what these members of your team can teach you? Indeed, it’s a lot! Time to learn.
Recently we handled an important appellate case. When we formed the appellate team, we decided to include one of our first-year associates. This was a rare opportunity for a very new lawyer to have meaningful involvement in a case of great significance. It was an opportunity for the firm to sponsor one of our junior attorneys. We saw that it would be “good for” this first-year associate to work on the appeal. It was. What we later learned was that it was “good for” the rest of us too.
What Was Added?
The senior attorneys on the team certainly wanted to provide our
Our youthful co-worker looked forward to the meetings where the team discussed the appeal, brainstormed what issues to cover and refined the strategy and legal research. She brought to these sessions the enthusiasm of a young lawyer embarking on novel and exciting work.
Her passion was infectious. The more seasoned lawyers experienced a renewed eagerness by working on the appellate team. Although some of that excitement arose from mentoring this new lawyer, it was primarily the result of the energy that she brought to the team.
The issues on appeal were matters of
Creativity Through Technology
One way that she brought this skill to bear on the appeal arose from her superior ability to use technology. New lawyers have the benefit of technology fluency that is not a part of senior lawyers’ education and experience. They know the latest and greatest. They live in the social media world and can find evidence that senior lawyers would not know how to locate and likely would not even think is available. New lawyers can perform legal research more efficiently than older lawyers—and often find authority that would otherwise be missed. Have you ever had the experience of wondering aloud to younger lawyers in your office about a legal issue only to have them find the answer on their phones while you are explaining the subject? We have, more than once.
The young lawyer’s excitement about her work benefited more than this appellate team. She increased morale throughout our office. She told everyone about the case and her role in it. She even told the (social) media.
Who Sponsored Whom?
Yes, it was important for us to mentor our youthful lawyer. Yes, giving her this assignment as a first-year associate was beyond mentoring, it was sponsorship. We were “sponsoring” her to learn how to work an appeal with unique legal issues. She will benefit greatly from seeing the big picture of litigation that can only be learned by working on its latter stages.
But the truth is that we got more out of this than our associate did. We could not have opened the doors she opened for us. The enthusiasm that she brought to the team and the firm, the creativity found in her unique viewpoint and the technical assistance that she provided would not have been available from a more senior lawyer. Although we may have sponsored her, she also sponsored us. And while our sponsorship impacted one young lawyer, her sponsorship impacted numerous colleagues.
Financial Burdens vs. Associate Development
Given the financial pressures that all law firms face these days, younger lawyers are often viewed as an investment whose benefits the firm will experience in the future, but not necessarily today. This is particularly true given the explosion in associate salaries and the attendant reluctance from clients to allow young associates to work on their matters.
These financial pressures can create incentives not to involve younger lawyers in cases. Clients don’t want to be billed for junior associate time for work on strategy, and we need lawyers at maximum productivity to cover their costs. For this
Before you staff your next case, consider the doors that recent graduate lawyers can open for your firm. Our young colleague provided value to the team that we needed because of her inexperience, not despite it. So contemplate how you can tap into the unique talents of your younger co-workers for their benefit—and for yours. And when you do, let them know the impact that they make. You might unleash a cycle of enthusiasm and creativity that benefits your firm many times over.