Tracy Spore is President of the Dallas Association of Legal Administrators and Office Manager at Bowman & Brooke Dallas. Tracy asked me to advise her professional group on how they can help develop young lawyers. Her request reminded me of how tough it was for me starting out as a new lawyer and how much support I received. I hope the article for DALA, which is exerpted below, will offer some helpful ideas for legal professionals who work with new lawyers:
Attorney Development: Is There an App for That?
Compared to many other entry-level professionals with whom I've worked, new lawyers are less prepared to practice their craft. Until our IT departments come out with a smart phone application to bring them along, they will need your guidance just as I did. Here are a few ideas for how to do just that:
- If you have the good fortune to work for a firm with personnel dedicated to lawyer development, look for ways to team with them to grow young lawyers. As Chief Development Officer with a large law firm, I worked closely with my firm’s administrative leaders to make sure our lawyers got the full benefit of the training and resources available to them. Our efforts ran in both directions. I worked hard to make sure new lawyers received the full benefit of our technology and knew how to work better with our staff. Our IT group, HR and staff leadership worked with me to make sure that I hit the right chords with our new lawyers in preparing them to effectively work with all of our firm’s resources, especially our incredible human resources.
- Point new lawyers to the local bar association for great development resources. Local bar associations provide great resources for new lawyers. For example, the Dallas Bar Association offers a year-long structured transition to law program that pairs an experienced lawyer mentor to each new attorney. In addition local bars often discount membership fees for new lawyers, making bar membership a bargain. If your firm does not have a formal training program, this resource will be particularly valuable.
- Understand lawyer personalities. As a group, lawyers are more time urgent, pessimistic, skeptical, sensitive to criticism and independently minded than the typical person. I recommend taking a look at Dr. Larry Richard’s article Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed to learn more. For those of us working with lawyers, tact, responsiveness to time demands, resilience and adaptability go a long way towards forging relationships.
- Be a Mentor. Firms often understand the need for attorney mentors. I would take it a step further. Newer attorneys need business mentors as well. This person may well be you.
- Use a coach to manage individual and firm developmental challenges. When people and organizations need to change to meet the demands of the marketplace, good coaches can often get them there more quickly and with less effort. In many corporations, coaching is an investment made in top leaders and high potentials to help the organization grow and thrive. You can find more information on lawyer coaching in my American Lawyer Daily article, Do Lawyers Need a Coach?
- Ask new lawyers if they want to know more about the business of law. When a new lawyer comes to you for help in opening a file, running a conflict, understanding billing and collections, dealing with a personnel issue, etc., it’s a great time to ask if they would be interested in knowing more about how this particular aspect of the practice works.
- Client Development is key. The biggest complaint I receive from the young partners I coach is that they are ill prepared to develop clients and yet are expected to do so fairly quickly after entering the partnership. Engaging your marketing personnel, senior lawyers and others in helping young lawyers understand business development early in their careers is critical for their long-term success and for that of your firm.
- Encourage your staff to offer help when they see a better way. In my experience lawyers are not very good at asking for help in understanding what they do not know. Reinforce to young lawyers the wisdom that your staff provides and the firm’s expectation that they will respect and utilize the wise people you have put in place to help them.
In today’s fast paced and constantly changing law firm environment, young lawyers must hit the ground running and develop quickly. And yes, there is an app for that; it’s you.