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8 Things Legal Administrators Can Do to Develop New Attorneys

Photograph by   Victor1558.

Photograph by Victor1558.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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?
  6. 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. 
  7. 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. 
  8. 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. 

Number One Concern for 4 Generations of Lawyers? It's the Economy Stupid!

Fifty-year lawyer Rust Reid smiles when he remembers his starting salary as a newly-minted attorney:

"New lawyers were more like apprentices, paid about the same as public school teachers and worth a lot less."

Recently Reid and I participated in a panel discussion at the Dallas Bar Association featuring perspectives from four generations of lawyers. The number one issue across the board? The economy.

Here's how it played out among the generations.

Gen Y.  This generation was born between 1980 and 2000 (lawyers age 31 and under). Gen Y'er Erin Callahan is a recent graduate of SMU Dedman Law School. Like many new graduates, she plans to hang out a shingle. Acoording to Callahan, the biggest stress among her peers is debt; the national average is $70,000 in debt for new grads of public law schools and $90,000 for private law school grads. Some of her classmates have student loan debt as high as $200,000 with no job in sight. 

Gen X. Penny Blackwell is a Partner with GreenbergTraurig and President of the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers. Penny graduated in 2000 when top law school graduates received a $40,000 raise afteraccepting jobs with big law firms and before reporting for day one of work. They never expected to be paid that well and felt tremendous pressure to produce. Today, the pressure contines. Even though many would trade dollars for time, they don't want to give up the seat at the table that equity partnership brings. And they worry about the new lawyers coming behind them who are starting solo practices. Blackwell and other bar leaders fear these lawyers will not get the training and mentoring they need. She believes the Bar must take on the challenge of helping them succeed.  

Boomers:  Ike Vanden Eykel is a hard-working baby boomer, CEO of a prestigious family law firm,Koons Fuller, and Immediate Past President of the Dallas Bar Association. He wonders where the new lawyers are who are willing to work as hard as his generation.  I too am a baby boomer and Vanden Eykel's concern is one I've heard often from my cohorts.  He acknowledges that:

"Many younger lawyers look at the "dysfunctional" lives baby boomers have created and say "no thanks."

But his experience is that they don't really want to say "no thanks" to the corresponding incomes that baby boomers have generated. Boomer lawyers are also worried about retirement.  Will they have the needed savings?  And will they really be happy to let go of the reins? For many the answer is no.  

Matures:  These lawyers are 66 and over. Many have postponed retirement due to inadequate savings and stock market declines. They are known for their loyaly, modesty and hard work ethic.  Panelist Rust Reid exempliefies this generation. He continues to practice law today with the same firm where he began his career, Thompson & Knight. He doesn't much like the billable hour and recalls the time in his career when lawyers resisted recording time. In 1960 when he started his career, billing was determined by the value to the client. He concedes that firms could afford to worry less about billing then since new atttorneys at top firms were paid the equivilant of $40,000 in today's dollars; time to learn and train was built into the salary structure then.  And with less debt than today's graduates, the finanical pressure on the new lawyer was less as well.  

I left the panel that day with mixed feelings.  I know that the newest generation of lawyers haa a rough road ahead. Not only will they struggle with student debt and perhaps fewer opportunities for legal employment; they also may not have access to the mentoring and training that lawyers of my generation received. On the other hand, the enthusiasm and commitment to the profession that I hear from Callahan and many of her cohorts is reminiscent of another generation of lawyers, the ones who mentored me. One in particular comes to mind. His name........ Rust Reid.