Millennial lawyers need feedback from supervising attorneys on a project basis — not just once or twice a year in scheduled reviews. That is well-established. People in positions like mine hear it all the time, and we know how important feedback is to junior lawyers — especially those who were raised with an abundance of feedback and mostly praise.
What does not get as much attention is the critical failure by law firms to revise review policies and mentoring efforts to meet the feedback needs of young lawyers. As I have stated to law firm and bar association audiences time and time again, that failing is very risky. Young lawyers travel light and will relocate over issues like failure to mentor — or just plain not showing enough interest in their career paths.
For those senior lawyers whose response is “don’t care” — and I have met some of them — my response is that they will care after they discover how expensive it is to replace talent.
Nicole Abboud hits the issue square on the head in her recent video on the subject. I like what Nicole is doing as a contributor to the Attorney at Work project, and I also like that she had me as a guest recently on her The Gen Why Lawyer podcast to discuss millennial lawyers. Check out the May 31, 2019 episode on The Gen Why Lawyer website to listen to our discussion.
Nicole is thoughtful and devoted to raising issues that are being glossed over by others in the profession. In this case, she uses her own experience as an associate lawyer to take a deep dive into what it is like to have your work product ignored. Take a look at the video. My guess is that you will be able to relate to the anxiety and damage to self-esteem and confidence about your career choice that result from this lack of feedback. And it is so unnecessary.
Times change. Law practices should do the same. What worked before, does not work now. Even if senior lawyers do not think that the degree of feedback millennials need is necessary, IT IS what millennials need. And the need won’t go away. Millennials were raised with an abundance of attention paid to them and in an age of instant gratification made possible by new technologies. They are the product of their times.
Often when I am addressing senior lawyers, who I know are challenged to understand or even appreciate millennials, I remind them of their contribution to the very thing about which they complain. Many of those lawyers are parents of millennials. Bingo! Bring on the March of the Helicopter Parents! They hovered, and they smothered and, yes, they made sure everyone got a trophy. Distancing themselves from the result now seems a bit silly and disingenuous.
Rather than avoid the issue, they should face it straight on and become the leaders we need for a better future. They should park their judgment genes on the office shelf and get busy training a new generation of lawyers who also will become a new generation of law firm leaders. Their numbers alone make that a certainty.
So I say to law firm leaders, pay attention to these young lawyers. Mentor them. Give them feedback. Show some real interest in them. Learn their names, and call them by name. Invite them to lunch. It will take a small amount of effort compared to the potential benefits. And you might actually enjoy doing for these young people what someone did for you in the day.
If you do your job right, it is an investment in the future of your law firm. And the young lawyers of today will be equipped to become the effective law firm leaders of tomorrow.