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Mentoring for Young Lawyers

May 17, 2011

Traveling Coaches is noticing more and more law firms implementing mentoring programs for young lawyers. The first years of a lawyer’s practice are a critical time in the development of professional habits, practices and character. By pairing up a new lawyer with someone who is more experienced to serve as a coach or mentor, the firm offers encouragement, promotes growth and develops employees and lawyers alike while helping them make a greater contribution to the organization. It seems most common that firms will assign a mentor as part of the formal employee onboarding process and then end the program after a certain period of time. However, research indicates that mentoring programs can be effective over the longer-term as well, and can also help an already effective employee/lawyer to become even more productive and effective. Furthermore, most law firm administrators we hear from these days are concerned about the “brain drain” that will take place when the Baby Boomer generation retires.

Tom Gimbel writes in ALA’s Managing Millennials Legal Management issue published in 2007, that 70% of law firm partners are Baby Boomers, and that law firms will lose almost three-quarters of their partnerships over the next several years. Implementing mentoring programs today could help in the critical knowledge transfer from the retiring generation to the new generation before it’s too late. Closely related to the mentoring program trend, is one trend we see coming from UK law firms, where young lawyers are being encouraged and rewarded for their innovation and new ideas. Pairing these young lawyers who have new ideas for technology and social relationships with more seasoned veterans who carry the wisdom of experience and decades of legal knowledge, seems to be catching on with some forward-thinking firms.

Where does technology play into legal mentoring programs? Are there tools and systems that could help facilitate mentoring relationships? Will mentors really educate mentees on using technology for the practice of law? Maybe not. Maybe it will be the other way around. In either case, we see lawyer-to-lawyer (and even peer-to-peer) education and mentoring as a trend taking place in law firms. It would be terrific if technology could play a role in these programs as it has in the broader advancement of the legal profession. As stated so well by the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), “Technology has revolutionized the practice of law over the past quarter century. All signs indicate that technology will continue to impact the way lawyers are educated and practice, and will impact the traditional skills associated with lawyering and how lawyers interact with their clients. Client needs and attitudes, the process of delivering legal services, law firm economics and technology applications all contribute to an evolving practice environment. These changes represent a sea change for the legal profession, which will affect the organization and structure of the firms where lawyers work.”

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