It is not just young women lawyers who desperately need mentoring — it is all young lawyers. And, the profession is failing them.
Young lawyers need mentors to help guide them in their professional growth and provide opportunities to discuss their futures as lawyers. Instead, too often, young lawyers flail around doing what they think they should be doing without knowing what it is they should be doing.
And, that leads to a lot of insecurity and loneliness on the job. The profession has evolved in such a way that an associate lawyer can spend eight to ten hours a day in front of a computer screen reviewing documents and having very little interaction with others at the firm. Senior lawyers feel they are too busy to “bother” with newbie lawyers, and some firms don’t even provide much in terms of interaction between associates. Gone are the days of associate meetings, which served two meaningful purposes. Those meeting brought associates together in a semi-social setting so that they did not feel so isolated, and the meetings also helped them develop the interpersonal skills that are critical to success in our profession.
I talk to young lawyers today who rarely, if ever, attend meetings of any kind. They just toil away in their offices, day in and day out, ignored by senior lawyers and managers, and wondering whether the promise of law school was just one big and very expensive lie.
Is this what we really want? Are we content to develop “researchers” instead of “lawyers”? Where, along that path, would these young lawyers develop the “soft skills” that will determine their value as they progress in the firm and interact with clients and develop new work?
Young lawyers do not have to feel that isolated, and law firms should not be content to have them feel that way. Mentoring is not just an investment in a young lawyer’s future; it also is an investment in the law firm. Is it really that difficult to have breakfast or lunch with young associates periodically and bolster their confidence to feel like lawyers instead of like unimportant cogs in a wheel?
If you are a young associate, who is feeling this kind of isolation and loneliness on the job, you will have to get proactive. Seek out a mentor, as uncomfortable as that might be for you. Think of it as taking initiative — a very important trait for a leader. If you have one, let the associate coordinator know your desire to learn more about the profession from people with the experience and the answers so that you can become a valuable asset to the firm.
Young lawyers, whose futures are being ignored, are very justified in seeking out more satisfactory turf. And, I would advise them to — but not until they have tried to find mentors and make the system work as it should.