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Law Students and Young Lawyers

Lawyers Whining About Mentoring

Those of us who hang out with lawyers know that there may be some wine involved, but more often, there will just be whining.

Lawyers complain about many and varied things, such as how hard they work, the stress, their demanding clients, their Associates, and their Partners. The list of gripes goes on and on. In my retirement, I have learned to tune most of them out. However, recently a rising crescendo of complaints from young lawyers about the scarcity of good mentoring has risen above the usual cacophony of complaints and careened into my consciousness.

In the legal profession where people are trained and paid to disagree with each other, it seems that there is nonetheless a general consensus about the following three things:

  1. Nothing in law school or the licensing process actually teaches lawyers how to practice law.
  2. Mentoring is essential for young lawyers entering the profession.
  3. Good mentoring is difficult to find.

That is not to say that there is no mentoring available to young lawyers. Individual law firms offer some mentoring. Some good. Some not so good. 

There are also programs offered by various associations which are detailed on the website of LawPro, which is the insurer of lawyers in Ontario (https://www.practicepro.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Mentoring-Chart-February-9-2022.pdf.)  But generally speaking, the young lawyers are complaining, and I understand that they are doing so with good reason.

My theory is that in the old days, lawyers thought that it was their responsibility to train and mentor the younger folks. It made sense back then for lawyers to invest in their young Associates because the Associates were likely to stay with the firm for many years. With the relationships between law firms and Associates having become more transactional and short-lived over the years, senior lawyers nowadays seem to be less willing to invest the time and effort to properly train and mentor the juniors, beyond making sure that they know what they need to know to generate billable hours.

From what I can see, lawyers entering the profession need lots of help. They have to learn how to handle substantive legal issues, see the big picture and strategize. They also require assistance with the same basic business issues that all business owners have to deal with such as financial management, creating a brand, networking, and managing people.

Those who know me well know that I also complain a great deal.  When I am not lamenting the miserable state of mentoring in the legal profession, I complain about how law firms (and accounting firms for that matter) quickly jettison senior partners when they wise up to the fact that life does not go on forever and start reducing their billable hours to enjoy their waning days. That leaves a great number of retired professionals who do not want to work full time but would like to keep just a little bit busy. I myself find it satisfying to work with mentees to give myself something to do, especially when I am afraid to venture too far out of the forest where I now live out of fear of catching Covid or Monkey Pox or whatever catastrophe is next going to befall us.

Combining these two themes, I have started an initiative which I call “retiredmentors.com” to provide a place for Mentors and Mentees to meet. Since the lack of mentorship is a common problem in the legal profession around the world as well as in other business fields, this initiative is not limited to the legal profession or to Canadian mentors and mentees. Many of the mentors will offer their services without charge. Others may charge a nominal fee.

I, for one, am in favour of anything which might have a chance of reducing the volume of whining that I hear from other lawyers. Of course, nothing is going to stop me from whining. Forty years of practicing law will do that to you.

This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (www.thelawyersdaily.ca), part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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