Last month, we lamented how it was “far too often” that “young lawyers perceive that their value to their firm is proportionate to the numbers on their time sheet, pro-rated credit rating or reputation for face time.” (See “Mix a Little Face Time in With All Those Billable Hours,” published Feb. 23.) We encouraged our colleagues to look beyond the billable hour to develop the lawyer skills that are far less easy to quantify, like creativity and counseling, which can be learned only through experience and practice.
This month, we turn the tables. Just change the above-quoted sentence to “far too often, firm management and partners perceive that young lawyers’ value to their firm is proportionate to the numbers on their time sheet, pro-rated credit rating or reputation for face time,” and you have a vision that is not likely to leave a firm with a legacy of lasting success. Singular focus on billable hours alone could turn even the most enthusiastic and brilliant young lawyers into burnt-out “yes men” and “yes women” who come in only for the paycheck and the bonus.
Maybe that’s the point — firms are businesses, after all. But, taking a more self-interested perspective, firm management and partners can and will benefit in the short and long run from developing their young lawyers into future leaders of the firm and the profession. Developing young lawyers can help improve and expand existing business, grow new business and carry on a lasting legacy and life lessons in the practice. And, isn’t the whole point of the law firm exercise to grow future leaders to ensure the partnership’s equity investment is there when the time comes to pack it in and head to Miami?
At first, it may seem like a waste of billable hours to take an associate along to a client meeting or court appearance if not absolutely essential to representing the client. But in those experiences lie the opportunities for an associate to take in all that we know is not taught in law schools: the skills of the actual practice of law. Give them the opportunity to see what it’s like to navigate a difficult issue with a client or when (or when not) to stand up to opposing counsel at a deposition and you may be surprised at the immediate return on your investment. Not only will they themselves be instilled with the confidence you teach, but by inviting honest feedback and questions, you may also get a fresh look at something you have done 1,000 times before.
Encourage and reward your younger colleagues for probing the why and the how of what you did or said and you may find yourself invigorated by the energy of one who has never done it before. The same goes for an approach or general strategy in a matter. You may have litigated the same family law dispute over and over and over through the years. Perhaps testing those age-old strategies with a colleague new to the practice could reveal some basic, yet poignant, questions about why we practice the way we do.
Consider what clients will think when you tell them that you are bringing along an extra lawyer — and not billing them for it — because you are interested in and dedicated to growing and developing your bench and making sure that even your most junior colleagues are interested, engaged and invested in the client. They will no doubt be thrilled, not only by your commitment to doing the right thing, but because they are getting the added value of another perspective and fresh talent, thinking about and advancing the interests of the client.
There is also no denying that technology has changed the practice of law, both substantively and in the way in which business comes in the door. Gone are the boxes full of paper files; here is the new reality of e-mail and review platforms like Clearwell and Relativity. Gone are the Rolodexes, replaced by LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Your younger colleagues were raised and live in this world, and could likely teach you a thing or two about how best to use it to your advantage, if you would only ask.
Perhaps key evidence of communications between co-conspirators exists only on Facebook. Maybe the next big client is an old college friend looking to re-connect on LinkedIn. You will never find either of these opportunities unless you know where to look, and your junior colleagues can be helpful guides to the latest and greatest in the technology realm. Aside from the practical benefits of investing in junior colleagues and making yourself responsible for their development as lawyers, there is also the loftier purpose of bringing along the next members of our profession and leaving behind your own legacy by making this contribution to the next generation’s success.
Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” As senior members of the bar, consider the task of looking beyond the billable hour as a necessary part of giving back. There is no question that the practice of law is a business, but it is also a profession that thrives on, grows and improves because of the wisdom that is passed from one generation to the next.
You can help this effort by ensuring that younger lawyers are receiving this kind of mentorship and development outside of sitting behind their desks and nodding along as matters wind their way to conclusion. Get them out to meet clients and to observe the practice in action, ask them to challenge conventional ideas and look for new solutions and use them to get the pulse on the latest technology available. You may be impressed that you are not just helping a junior member of the profession come along, but helping yourself and the firm as well. •
YL EDITORIAL BOARD
Peter Buckley, Chairman
Leigh Ann Buziak
Kristine L. Calalang
Eileen K. Keefe
The Editorial Board of Young Lawyer is composed of members of the legal profession. They serve voluntarily and are independent of Young Lawyer. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the bench, bar and public. Members of the legal community are invited to contribute signed op-ed pieces.