Below is my in-depth response and commentary to Attorney Oscar Michelen’s (friend and business partner) article,
I have long had concerns of many young lawyers (under 30 group) I have met over the years.
Your article has sparked my interest to comment on this subject. As a small-business owner and private citizen who has often gone into court to represent myself over the last 20+ years (plaintiff more than defendant though), I have become more comfortable than the average person in court. I have also frequently hired lawyers to consult with and represent my or my company interests in court. These experiences have shaped my views of young lawyers in particular.
In a general sense, there has been for years a growing entitlement that any college degree (law or not) entitles the recipient to some guaranteed high salary and position in life. And because of a long-sustained growing economy, it fed into this entitlement mindset.
With this entitlement comes a level of ignorance, inexperience, and naivete, that is quite unbecoming in many young lawyers. Many young lawyers think that because they have studied law, they understand the way business should be conducted and predict how legal cases should go. Rulings don’t often go the way “they should be”.
They do not have insights of what the business world, business owners, and business managers seek of them. This is the same of doctors. Doctors are notorious for being business-ignorant and greatly dependent on their office managers and staff to take care of that aspect. However, the public understands that being a doctor is often being far removed from business issues.
With lawyers, they are being brought into high degree of confidence and information by the businesses who hire them. Young lawyers appear to not have much business education and only learn about the business world by working within a larger law firm and the senior attorneys who hire them.
As you pointed out in your article, these young lawyers will have to put in an easy 10 years to become partner. If they don’t like that, it will take about that long for them to get the seasoning and business experience they need to become a profitable sole practitioner or start their own law firm. One way or another, they WILL be putting in the time necessary to “learn the business.”
Unfortunately for young lawyers, I now rarely hire or consult with any lawyer under 30. Often, it seems I have a better instinct of what my case will be about in court than many young lawyers I have met. Any young lawyer who thinks that the judge cannot be swayed by human or extraneous issues is naive. If they do not believe presentation and style matters, they are naive. If they do not believe details and visuals matter, they are naive. I could continue on but the point is made.
Also in terms of client relations, they want repeat business but often don’t seem to know much about cultivating relationships. They just expect their clients to automatically think of them. Young lawyers have a lot going against them simply because of their age. They need go the extra mile to demonstrate they understand their client’s business and how it works, not simply the immediate small case at hand. They need to lose the attitude, the entitlement mentality, and hanging so much of their self-worth on their GPA and where they got their degree. IN the outside world, very few ask where you went to school and your GPA. People want to know what you have done!
Because when they get in front of me and my business friends who either manage, own, or invest in businesses, we quickly come to view a young lawyer as an overpaid legal clerk or a business/legal consultant.
Whether a young lawyer works for a small or large firm, the greatest asset they will have in cultivating their own clients for a partnership or their own law firm is to start developing a strong sense of entrepreneurship. If that is unappealing, they better continue working as clerks or stay in the research department because I don’t want them on the front lines negotiating for me or in front of a judge.
I would also say to young lawyers, that because of their predecessors who got away with providing unsatisfactory services and otherwise burned their business clients during the boom times, I know exactly how to contact and file written complaints to any State Bar Association as well as detailed written complaints about them and their behavior to AVVO and other lawyer-rating sites. You may not get disbarred but having complaints in your file cannot be good for career growth.
My comments may be scary to young lawyers and it is meant to be. Having said that, society and business wants you to succeed. We want you to be smart, capable, and hireable. My advice is to step and set correct expectations. Know what you know but also know what you don’t know and get the learning somewhere. Whether you know it or not, a lawyer is often a business consultant. Pick up some books and take some seminars on how to be a phenomenal business consultant.
Also, it is disgraceful that so many lawyers still depend on the Yellow Pages, do not use email, or have some kind of Internet presence. They think because they are at some large law firm, they can afford to NOT tell people what kind of person they are. Business people want to know what kind of people lawyers are especially young lawyers.
Most young lawyers went to college full-time. Yes, you may have worked hard earning that degree but you were like just like most full-time college students who liked to drink, party, and have sex during their college years. The time has come to put some serious distance between now and those fun-loving times even if it was only last week when you graduated!
If they were dumb enough to take those photos and load it to their Facebook or Myspace accounts, take them down! In place of all the nonsense, start writing some articles, get involved with AVVO, start a legal blog, put up a professional Facebook page, actively use email to communicate with your clients, get involved with a hot legal issue. I am tired of lawyers in general being behind the curve.
As Oscar has pointed out in his article, power has dramatically shifted in the hiring process. It is up to the young lawyer to take the corrective measures to gain the respect and following to rise to the top of his game.