Tag Archives: Models

Millennials as lawyers and their professional development – can the center hold?

These peripatetic Millennials, slated as they are to move from job to job. Seemingly, there’s no economical way to train and develop Millennial lawyers. No way to foster the development of seasoned legal judgment – what with Millenials moving as often as we are told they will do, from employment to employment. Acquiring professional judgment takes time and experience. For my money, it also takes models.baby owls

Hard as they are trying, law schools simply cannot turn out practice-ready lawyers. There will ALWAYS  be a gap between school and the moment of taking responsibility for real-life clients and their problems. And it takes experience to develop the judgment that’s required to handle what’s new, uncertain, ambiguous.

My theory has been that, in the 19th Century, practicing bars provided the needed bridge for new lawyers from school to practice – as a matter of shared culture at a local bar. Later, in the 20th Century, the bridge was provided in large degree by law firms as a matter of firm culture.

Today, increasingly, the center does not hold. The fabric of shared legal culture is very thin. Law schools seek to provide clinical programs. Law firms sometimes hire and sometimes don’t; and firms may emphasize productivity over professional development. Alternative service providers displace young-lawyer functions altogether. And the profession is splintering into an ever widening array of limited-purpose and specialized practices.

Into this soup come the Millennials. They move from job to job at a pace that would seem to obstruct professional development and frustrate the efforts of employers seeking to recover the costs of their training.

This is a system yet to find its equilibrium.

But, I come to it with a bias: There was never a time or a place where valuing learning for itself did not pay off. That must be the response.

Learning is a universal value. A learning culture must be at the center. It must always hold.

A law firm must be a learning organization.

The Middle Way — the shining path of mid-size law firms

Above the Law and The People’s Therapist recently compared working as a young lawyer in a BigLaw firm to eating a bucket of cockroaches.middle-path

I’ve never worked for a big law firm, but I have eaten cockroaches. (Ft. Benning, Ga., 1969.) Taking the comparison as apt and applying my own experience, I can say that the cardinal attribute of working for a big law firm must be the thrashing of the little legs on your tongue.

The People’s Therapist grants that some may like this:

They like the money, and the status that comes with working around the clock for billionaires. A certain type of dorky, detail-driven, competitive personality thrives in the corridors (and tiny, colorless offices) of biglaw.

However, for most of us, working in biglaw appears to resemble eating cockroaches …. Why would we then eat a bucket of cockroaches? … The money.

Enter George Mason professor Michael Krauss, writing for Forbes. He warns that money is no reason to go to law school. That model is broken

Law school tuition is higher than ever, yet incomes are stagnant and perhaps dropping. Law school loans, guaranteed by Uncle Sam and not dischargeable by bankruptcy, help you pay for tuition, but every increase in the generosity of federal largesses is yet another incentive for universities to capture rents by increasing tuition further.

But most law students will not catch the “brass ring” of high paying jobs at big law firms.

And those that do catch the ring will be in for a life that is “usually exhausting and often boring, if not soul-destroying.”

Professor Krauss says, if your objective with law school is to make a lot of money, you probably won’t, and if you do, then you will destroy your very soul (while dining on cockroaches). The right reasons to go to law school, he says, are if your interests are either (i) the pursuit of Justice, or (ii) helping people who need and can’t afford legal help, or (iii) “soberly attempting to understand and solve the incredibly difficult, and incredibly interesting intellectual problems that underlie so many of today’s legal disputes.”

Those are good reasons to go to law school. But the economic model may be no better, even if the work is. If your objectives are to do justice or to serve the disadvantaged, you need to know that the pay will not be good. Legislatures are reducing government funding for legal aid programs even as the demand grows. The primary response of the organized Bar is to seek new sources of funding (donations, surcharges on various dues and fees, enhanced pro bono programs). But friends, the gap will never be closed this way. It just won’t.


Soberly attempting to understand and solve the incredibly difficult, and incredibly interesting intellectual problems that underlie so many of today’s legal disputes.

That’s a great reason to go to law school — and that is what mid-size firms do every day. And the scale of the work is such that young lawyers engage directly in the problem solving – not just the detail-driving. And, however precariously, the economic model for mid-size law firms still works.

I feel a little guilty about this when I hear about the soul-destroying and the cockroach-munching – and I feel especially guilty when I hear about the unmet legal needs of good people in an increasingly complex society – and the dedicated, debt-burdened lawyers who work to help those people.

And, I acknowledge that the supply of jobs for new graduates in mid-size firms is limited. It’s very hard to get in.

There’s no time here or room for proofs that the model is still working, or to detail the risks of the mid-size model (there are many) – I offer only the bald conclusion: the quality of professional life endures and the economic model still works for mid-size firms where the values are right and strategic choices are careful.

“The Middle Way.”

Arthur Rimbaud and the Core of Professional Development

Downtown Greensboro has a new independent bookstore.  Scuppernong Books1378253_303375146467500_528342990_n

The store is an engaging space. The book collection is civilized, sophisticated, appealing. It beckons from a higher brow.

Patronize this store.

Among the titles on the half-price shelf, I found Rimbaud, The Double Life of A Rebel, by Edmund White. In it, I learned that a letter Rimbaud wrote to a friend in the early 1870’s, “The Seer’s Letter,”  is one of the foundations of modern poetry. Rimbaud said,

Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud

I am present at the explosion of my thought. I watch and I listen to it. I wave the baton; the symphony murmurs from its depths or comes leaping onto the stage.

I link Rimbaud to the professional development practices of Jim Williams and the earlier post here.

In the act of introspection, “we objectify the self”. That is the core of professional development.

Jim Williams, Arthur Rimbaud.

More on Professional Models

Professional models walk the walk

Professional models walk the walk

Two earlier posts here have commented on the key role of models in law firms. Models – members of the firm who walk the walk – are exceptionally effective transferors of standards and values.

They demonstrate how things are done and inspire doing things that way. (“I want to be like her.”) This eliminates both the need for dry hours of training and for cumbrous stacks of hierarchy.

  • So, models are efficient and inspiring.
  • Where do you get them?

The earlier posts commented on “organic” models – the ones that grow up naturally.  Every lawyer (young or old) should identify and emulate the finest members of his or her firm and profession. The best certainly do that. For that reason, firms should hold up their models. And that is also one of the roles of professional associations. (I have the sense that the business of giving awards in bar organizations has gone awry, but that is another discussion.)

The natural inclination is to look to older, prominent professionals and leaders as models; and, to think of models as other people. Some time ago though, I realized with a jolt that not only should I be identifying my models, but I might be one myself – and that I should give some attention to what kind of model I am. This is not just about how old I am or how prominent, but about how my example contributes to my firm’s culture.

  • So, models are not limited to other people. You are one.
  • But, not just you. Every member models the firm’s values and standards.

When not-older and not-prominent members can be acknowledged and celebrated as models, they should be – in formal and informal ways. But recognition may be the least of it. How do you engender a sense among everyone that they are models for everyone else?

This is easier to achieve in smaller organizations than in larger ones.

Professional Models and the Examined Life

My partner, Jim Williams tells of consciously identifying models early in his career. He kept a journal in which he identified lawyers whom he admired.

I may have this wrong, but I believe that each model got a different page in the journal; and Jim recorded what he admired about each lawyer and wanted to emulate. Then he gave himself objectives calculated to reach those goals and he somehow accounted for, or chronicled his progress.

This puts me in mind of Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, by Gerald M. Weinberg, which is a book about how to write a book. The core of it is its suggestion that – as a basis for writing – you should keep a kind of journal. Well, not really a journal, but a collection of notes to be compiled later and organized into something bigger. (This is said to be like fieldstones collected to build a rock wall.) Weinberg’s key point, is that your notes should record, thoughts, observations or experiences that have energy for you . The test for what you record is only whether there is energy or emotion or some spark for you in what you observe, or the thought that occurs to you. If there is, write it down. Gather, evaluate and organize later.

First, cultivate awareness of what has energy for you from moment to moment. Then, capture it; you’ll forget it if you don’t.

“The examined life.” This is a good thing to do, even if you never write a book.

Williams took the same ideas several steps further and harnessed them to his professional development. The method:

  1. consciously identify professional models;
  2. note what it is about those models that causes you to choose them;
  3. ask yourself what steps you might take to become more like your models; and
  4. keep track.

Call it The Williams Method.

A terrific idea. Wish I had known about this back then. Wait a minute. I know about it now . . .. There is energy here.

Sources of Professional “Inspiration”

For a Bar Association program in 2003, I was asked to answer this question: “What do you find inspires your colleagues most?” (NOTE: The date on my file says “2003,” but I find that hard to believe.)

My answer, in part, was:inspiration-290x273

I think that there are two main things that guide us at our firm when we are at our best. The first is the models provided by older lawyers whom the younger ones want to emulate. I have now witnessed this working over 2 or 3 generations and I think that there is more power in the example of an admired professional than in all the vision and mission statements and ethics codes in the world.

Second, is membership in a mutually supportive community of people – a partnership – who like, respect and enjoy each other. We’re never as good as we ought to be in our firm, but sometimes we are very good and I guess that collegiality and community really are sources of “inspiration and dedication”.

The things that inspire my colleagues most, I think, are the examples of admired colleagues and the sense of community and shared purpose.

Over the (apparently, many) years since then, I have become more convinced of my answer. And, in these sources of “inspiration” (that was my interlocutor’s term, not mine) can be found the foundations and future role and functions of law firms. In the 21st Century, law firms won’t be needed as much as they were in the 20th Century, for shared infrastructures and practice support resources. They won’t be needed for scale or efficiencies.

But, they will be needed to develop and form true professionals. Always, the profession has been shaped by its models. In the 19th Century, the bar itself was a cohesive community and a ready source of models. In the 20th Century, those roles shifted to firms. In the 21st Century, as local, state and national boundaries count for less and less; compelling models of professionalism will be needed more and more — especially as collaborating and contesting lawyers seek to connect over greater and greater distances.

There is a lot of talk just now about mentors. Yes. But do not confuse mentors with models.