Sometimes you just read something that you know is wrong. Not just wrong, but Wrong, Wrong, Real Wrong.
Well, that happened to me just the other day. I was reading the Above The Law blog, and I came upon an article captioned “Why Today’s Seasoned Lawyers Shouldn’t Mentor Newbies.” Because I have written so much on mentoring, including in my new book to be released this summer, the article immediately interested me. In that new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers), I argue that young lawyers want more — not less — attention from senior lawyers. I argue that it is the isolation and lack of community on the job that plagues young lawyers the most and that it can so easily be remedied by senior lawyers showing interest in the practices and lives of the young professionals around them.
So, what possibly could lie behind the proposition that seasoned lawyers shouldn’t mentor “newbie lawyers”? Where else are newly-minted lawyers going to get information on proper courtroom decorum, how to conduct themselves at the settlement table, what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a deposition, when it is OK to call the judge’s chambers, what is appropriate interaction with clients, how the law firm makes profits, what are the most effective ways of generating new clients …. and the list goes on and on and on?
Those things are rarely taught with any degree of effectiveness in law school — and typically only to those students, who are brave enough to take a trial practice clinic. For most students it is just too risky and humiliating to have a judge scream at you in the courtroom when your trial practice advisor is watching and you have eight credits on the line. It is much easier to concentrate on memorization and writing a killer exam in a traditional classroom course.
Even law firm summer associates have little time or opportunity to learn much about the actual practice of law because time in those positions is fleeting and the law firms are far too busy wooing the law students to come over to their side. Acceptable behavior during a deposition is frowned on as good conversation at pool parties and concerts.
And mid-level associates are too busy billing hours and proving themselves worthy of selection to partnership to have any time to impart knowledge to “newbie” lawyers. Add to that the problem that a lot of mid-level associates also do not have the necessary level of knowledge to impart.
So, by my calculation, that leaves seasoned lawyers as the desirable mentors. It seems so obvious. The flimsy support for the proposition of the Above The Law article is that seasoned lawyers are so out of touch that they still are recommending that young lawyers get involved with bar associations for networking opportunities and that seasoned lawyers cannot possibly relate to a world where women’s issues and work-life attitudes have evolved and where commoditized work has an appeal. Really.
Even if some seasoned lawyers prove to be a little out of touch on a few of these issues, the premise of the article is much too broad. Seasoned lawyers have a wealth of knowledge on substantive, procedural and business issues, and there is no reason to stridently throw the baby out with the bathwater by dismissing them as unfit mentors. In fact, most young lawyers should be so lucky as to have seasoned lawyers take interest in them and their careers.
The Above The Law article goes too far. You can skip it! Maybe Above The Law should have skipped it, too.