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. 

What do Lawyers and Pinot Noir Grapes Have in Common?

Last week I heard fellow lawyer/psychologist Larry Richard of Hildebrandt present his research on lawyer personalities to a conference of psychologists held in Napa.  When Larry describes lawyer personalities (he has collected data on over 40,000 of us), regular folks are often most surprised to hear that lawyers are as a group "thin-skinned."  

If you are a lawyer, it's more likely that you don't take criticism well and it offends you more than it does the average person. You also have more trouble bouncing back.  When it comes to criticism, these psychologists assumed lawyers could "take it" because lawyers "dish it out."  But the opposite is true. When outside the well-defined boundaries of the legal battlefield, lawyers are easily wounded by criticism so they avoid difficult conversations and conflict.  

Following Larry's presentation, the group went on a vineyard tour where we learned that pinot is the lawyer of grapes-- thin skinned and easily bruised.  So few pinot grapes survive to harvest that it has earned the reputation of being difficult to cultivate, arduous to grow and prone to rot.  But as any wine lover will tell you, pinot is worth the trouble.  

So if you are a pinot noir kind of lawyer, how do you survive to harvest?  

Bottom line--you must develop resilience.  The American Psychological Association recommends ten ways to do just that:

  1. Connect with others such as friends and family.
  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems by changing how you interpret stressful events.
  3. Take steps towards your goals.
  4. Take action to address the stressful situation rather than avoiding it.
  5. Look for the opportunity in adversity to learn about yourself and to grow.  
  6. Nurture a positive view of yourself.
  7. Maintain a long-term perspective.  Don't blow things out of proportion. 
  8. Maintain a hopeful outlook.
  9. Take care of yourself by eating healthily, exercising and relaxing.
  10. Identify other practices that help you bounce back from stress such as meditation, spiritual practice or writing.

What do Lawyers and Pinot Noir Grapes Have in Common?



  1. They are both thin-skinned and easily bruised.
  2. When carefully and fully developed to harvest, they both produce something extraordinary.