New Lawyer Series: Mentors, development and job searching

In their very first podcast, the crew over at Lawyerist.com interviewed Alan Dershowitz about his book “Letters to a Young Lawyer“. To be fair, I haven’t read the book, but it was an interesting interview and I thought there were some especially great points about mentors, including two red flags:

  1. Lawyers who advise you to do the same things they have done in their career.
  2. Lawyers who do things just because they have always done things, despite the lack of any evidence those things actually work.

These made me think of some especially important points for people who are either a) new lawyers currently looking for work and b) those who just completed the OCI process.

I cannot stress enough the importance of working for someone who believes in lawyer development. You will hear time and time again that, before you can think about honing your business development skills or becoming an expert in some field, you must first DO GOOD WORK. People have to be able to trust your judgment and know that when you give advice, you have done the due diligence and that the advice is based on sound legal principles.

You want to work for someone who will watch you fail (because you will), give you constructive feedback, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, let you try again.

What people don’t often talk about is how, as a new lawyer, you’re supposed to know whether you’re doing good work or not. In the case of trial lawyers, civil or otherwise, bad advocacy is a lot easier to spot than good advocacy. Good advocacy appears effortless and, well, it just makes sense: the logic of the argument is clear and advocate is persuasive. Even if you don’t agree with their position, you will understand their arguments and the facts that are important to the case. The important thing to take away from this is that this is a skill that can be taught and you should be looking to work for lawyers who are willing and able to teach you these things.

You can call them mentors or sponsors or whatever you like, but they serve the same purpose: they’re going to make sure that you’re getting the opportunities you need to develop your skills. Whether it’s drafting particular types of agreements or getting on your feet, you want to work for someone who will watch you fail (because you will), give you constructive feedback, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, let you try again. There are stories in every firm of partners or senior associates who ask for some vague thing, get back work product that they don’t like and then just assume that the junior lawyer is an idiot and vow never to work with them again. If you’re in a large firm, luckily there will likely be plenty of other people to work with, but if you’re in a small firm or working for a solo – you’re going to SOL real quick. Unfortunately, how to manage people, although perfectly teachable, is not something that is currently taught to lawyers.

At the end of the day, the partners are running a business and they can make whatever business decisions they want, including determining that you’re not a good fit for WHATEVER REASON and the best way to make sure you don’t end up in that position is to ask the right questions during the interview process (it really is true that the best defense is a good offense).

I’ll go into further details about what questions you should ask in my next post, but I’m sure there are some that I haven’t thought of, so tell me: what questions have you found to be effective at determining whether you’ll get the guidance and support you’ll need as a young lawyer? Do you worry that asking too many questions might take you out of the running?

Leave your answers and thoughts in the comments!

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