In the first draft of this post, I set out as a fact that I had a question which would stump 95% of all lawyers. My wife read the draft and said that I was wrong. There is nothing unusual about that. I am wrong plenty and she is quick to notice when I am.
The question was: “What are the career goals of your assistant, law clerk, or associate?
My view is that lawyers are unlikely to know the answer to this question. Because they don’t ask. And why don’t they ask? Because they don’t care. Actually, it isn’t even that they don’t care. Perhaps they would care if they thought about it. But they typically do not think about it.
And why not? Because the legal world revolves around lawyers. We understand our own career goals and those of our peers. Becoming a partner, having great clients, developing a reputation in the profession, perhaps starting our own firm, or jumping to industry, definitely making more money. Maybe winning some prizes or becoming a judge.
My theory is that lawyers do not think much about whether their ‘support staff’ and associates have their own aspirations. They don’t find out whether their legal assistant wants to learn to do more challenging work or become a law clerk, or their clerk might want to take on a supervisory role and head a department. Or maybe one of them wants to go to law school. In my experience the depth of thought that lawyers engage in when it comes to the ‘little people’ in their firms does not extend much beyond thinking that these individuals have jobs, not careers, and they will just keep doing their jobs as long as we have work for them to do.
I think that most lawyers would actually be surprised to find out that people other than us aspire to greater things.
My wife on the other hand, thinks that law firms do an okay, if not perfect, job of applying basic human resources practices such as looking for career advancement opportunities for staff within their firms before recruiting for newcomers and providing support and encouragement for people who want to better themselves and their careers.
She certainly does not think, as I do, that many lawyers are more than pleased to keep advancement opportunities from their staff so that a change of positions will not inconvenience them. I figure that they do not really care if their staff is happy, as long as they are at their desks (or at home) working.
Which leaves me wondering whether law firm morale could be improved and turn-over costs reduced, if someone took responsibility for understanding what motivates their employees and looked for ways to help them grow in the firm (or outside of the firm) and achieve their dreams.
As you may have guessed, my wife has more positive views about human nature than I do, even though she is a lawyer and should know better.
So who is right this time?