When Mentoring Disappears

Many new lawyers start their own practices soon after graduation or join firms that offer little mentoring or training.  I attribute this to a number of factors, including the law firm model falling into disfavour over issues of work/life balance and mental health, and prejudice encountered by internationally trained lawyers.

On the positive side, it is easier than ever for new lawyers to start on their own because of the increased support available through consultants and social media support groups, and the “levelling the playing field” effect of legal technology.

I speak to many Newbies. Frequently the context is that they are being asked to take on a matter in respect of which they have little prior experience. What frightens me when I speak to them is that often they are clueless. Not just a little clueless, but very clueless.

My area of practice was business law. When young lawyers joined my department, the first thing that I told them to do was read the Business Corporations Act, Business Names Act and Corporations Information Act and speak to me if they did not understand anything.  When they were done with that, I would tell them to read the Personal Property Security Act and the Bills of Exchange Act.

If someone said “franchising,” I said, read the Arthur Wishart Act (Franchise Disclosure).  If they murmured “lending,” I told them to read the Interest Act and the Criminal Code provision on the criminal rate of interest.

If it was “limited partnerships,”  they had to read both the Partnerships Act and the Limited Partnerships Act.

You get the idea. Start with the basics and build from there.  Then jump into Practical Law or other specialized services to go beyond the basics. After that, get some precedents and study them. Frankly, it’s bloody  hard work.

I see far too many young lawyers who do not do this. Instead, they talk to me about what they are learning from Google and ChatGPT,  or the feedback they are receiving from questions that they are posing in their social media support group (often composed of equally clueless newcomers).

I spoke about this to a lawyer who also teaches, and at the risk of sounding  like an old boomer-fogey, I will repeat what he told me. He said that he sees way too many young folks who have gotten accustomed to learning from video clips and do not have the patience to just sit down, read stuff and study.

I find it terrifying. We have too many new lawyers out there on their own (and to be clear, some of them in firms are just as “on their own” as the solos) who do not  know what they do not know. Too few of them are calling for help.  Many just do not understand how much effort goes into becoming competent in this profession.

As a profession, we have abdicated our responsibility to teach people how to succeed. The law schools and law societies need to fix that.   

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

2 replies on “When Mentoring Disappears”

and of course, what will happen is that mistakes will be made, professional indemnity insurance premiums will rise, and the reputation of the legal profession will suffer

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