Law Firm Management

Is it the Lazy Junior Lawyer’s Fault?

Tali Green recently (sarcastically)asked the following question on LinkedIn: “Are lazy and sub-par juniors contributing to the mental health crisis in the legal profession?”

She quoted the following from an article suggesting that this is the case:

“The pressure is particularly high on law firm partners, who as owners of the business carry the responsibility of … managing the expectations of Gen Z lawyers demanding a better work-life balance.  Skill shortages among junior lawyers who trained remotely during the pandemic have added to this burden, increasing the reputational and liability risks on their supervising partners… If you can’t have the same level of reliance that you used to have on young people then that pressure comes back on to you to make sure it’s right… a US law firm based in London, resolves this challenge by carefully hiring lawyers who are eager to work hard, and is upfront with recruits about its extremely high expectations…”

Tali invited me to weigh in, which is much like the time when one of my least favourite partners handed me a microphone at a firm event when I was in one of my less grateful moods.

So here goes:

Managing a law firm is indeed difficult because the pace of change is constantly accelerating. It is even more challenging if you think that leadership means finding ways not to change.

Back when I was a partner in a law firm, I thought much the same way. The young people did not want to work as hard as I did when I started out. They should sacrifice their physical and mental health and relationships just like I did. I kept trying to recruit young folks who thought like old folks.

But of course, I was an idiot. I had bought into the old definition of success where you work ridiculous hours and sacrifice everything else, and then when you crash and burn everyone says, “oops, there must have been something wrong with him. What a shame. And he seemed so normal.” (Okay, they never said the thing about appearing normal in my case.)

No, what the authors of these comments do not get is that leadership is about addressing change. If the young folks did not get the training they needed during the pandemic and have not yet caught up, whose fault is that?  I am going with firm leadership.

And if the new generation wants to work in a healthier manner, should management address the ‘problem’ by looking for people who want to continue to work themselves into mental health issues, or figure  how to change their firms so that working does not make people sick. Perhaps decrease billings targets, hire more lawyers, and earn less money, at least in the short term?

Someone smart once said that very few people make it their goal to go to work and be incompetent.   Do senior lawyers who find themselves surrounded by incompetent associates  really not see their part in that? Their really, really, big part?

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