I believe that lawyers should not compete based on price. I tell this to my mentees, and sometimes the response is, “that is easy for you to say from a cruise ship in the Pacific. I’m struggling to get files in the door and pay my rent.”
I also think that new lawyers should avoid practicing in areas that have become commodities and are particularly fee sensitive, such as residential real estate. My young friends tell me that they have to get cash in the door and that doing some real estate files is the best way to do it.
Then I tell them that they have to develop a niche and promote themselves as experts in that niche, and they reply that they must do everything that comes in the door to eke out a living, and do not have the luxury of time to develop a ‘niche.’
I say not to choose the highest paying job, but to select a firm that prioritizes mentoring and training, has a positive culture, and offers some work/life balance. They tell me that they are drowning in student loans and struggling to pay their expenses, and that the firm that offers the highest salary is the winner.
I suggest that they should avoid any client who is ethically challenged. They are not sure that they can afford to lose any potential client.
In the legal profession, as in life, there are the Haves and the Have-Nots.
On top of the financial fault lines in the profession, there are also some cultural divides. We have internationally trained lawyers (including Canadian-born lawyers who obtained their degrees outside of Canada) who do not get a fair shake in the employment market. (One such lawyer recently told me that a potential employer came right out and told her that their policy is not to hire internationally trained lawyers.)
Much can be written about all of this. Some might say that cultural favouritism or racism is involved, and that may well be the case. It seems clear to me that, at a minimum, there is a deficit of mutual understanding at play. I also think that many firms underestimate the value that diversity (including proficiencies in multiple languages and international legal expertise) can bring, not only in serving the firm and its existing clients, but in opening up opportunities for new streams of business.
This all came home to me the other day when some commentators on LinkedIn went on a self-righteous rant about how no one should ever ‘hide their authentic self’ to secure a job. While in an ideal world that would be nice, we do not live in an ideal world. These people had less than compassionate things to say to someone who had suggested a more ‘practical’ viewpoint. Some of the more inflexible commentators appeared to have the type of privilege which my more desperate mentees can only dream about.
We could use some more open-mindedness and empathy in the legal profession. Especially among those of us who did not struggle to get started in the profession and had some ‘natural’ advantages securing our first jobs.
This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.