Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Empowering our new lawyers

On October 28, 2016, 530 new lawyers were admitted to the practice of law in Minnesota. They are now officers of the court and members of our profession. I invite you to consider how we can embrace these lawyers and welcome them into the profession.  I invite you to consider how we can assist these lawyers in succeeding and thriving in our profession, and help them grow to become our next generation of leaders.

Why should we help them? After all, we are busy ourselves. What’s more, these new lawyers are members of the much-maligned millennial generation, who have been described as entitled, disloyal, lazy, disinterested, and terrible employees. At the ABA meeting in San Francisco last August, Dan Negroni of Launchbox encouraged us to move beyond these stereotypes. Negroni also told us how to leverage their incredible talent. His advice? Value millennials for their fresh viewpoints and strengths, including intelligence, innovation, curiosity, and entrepreneurial spirit. Take the opportunity to inspire this generation to help us address the significant issues facing our profession and give them the opportunities to be part of something bigger than themselves. Help them find their own greatness. We shortchange ourselves if we don’t.

We ignore the next generation at our peril. According to Negroni, millennials make up 2.4 billion of the world’s population. They represent 40 percent of today’s workforce and are the biggest and most powerful customer group today. By 2017, they will carry the bulk of the world’s spending power. By 2025, millennials will make up 75 percent of our employees and customers. If we want to thrive and succeed as a profession, we cannot afford to ignore millennials. They are our clients and potential clients. They will soon be the face of our profession in every sector of the legal services market.

Moreover, this generation of lawyers enters the profession at a time of upheaval in the legal services market, where we must literally re-write our DNA and create new business models to constantly adapt to an ever-changing market and technological advances. The central challenge for the legal profession now, and for at least the next decade, is to define for ourselves the nature and scope of the practice of law in this new legal services market. Creativity and innovation in the delivery of legal services go hand in hand with this central challenge. Given the market changes we are experiencing, and the economic power of millennials, this new generation of lawyers will be defining the nature and scope of the practice of law for the rest of us. We need the help of our new lawyers now as we grapple with these issues today.

If we want the engagement of our new lawyers, we have to recognize that their personal identity is shaped by crucibles we may have not faced—unemployment, underemployment, and crushing student debt. They are grappling with these challenges at the beginning of their careers. Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas, in their Harvard Business Review article “Crucibles of Leadership,” explain that crucible events are transformational experiences. They are intense. They often involve trauma or pain. And they alter your identity. At the same time, these crucibles can be the source of distinctive leadership abilities, depending on the way a person deals with what happens. Our market undervalues the human capital represented by our new lawyers. It is no surprise that so many innovative legal services models are coming from this generation, born of necessity. This generation is already at the forefront in adapting to the disruption of our legal services market. They can teach us so much. Let us teach and support them as they struggle to leverage their crucible experiences into personal power and distinctive professional leadership.

All of us are where we are today because of someone else, someone who believed in us, someone who pushed us to grow and gave us the chance to shine. Be that someone for a new lawyer. Reach out to these new lawyers and teach them about our profession, our significant challenges, our public policy initiatives, and how they can engage in issues bigger than themselves. Reach out and teach them about the big picture concerns of your organization, how they fit in, what your expectations are, and what they need to do to succeed. Value them, leverage their talent, and see for yourself how they add value to what you do. Encourage them to join the New Lawyers Section of the MSBA, which grows leaders and connects them to the profession’s most significant work.

And one more thing. Our new lawyers enter the profession at a time where we are coming to understand just how hazardous the legal profession is to our health. Lawyers suffer from anxiety, stress, and alcohol abuse significantly more than the general population and other professions. What’s more, lawyers in their first 10 years of practice are more at risk than senior attorneys. Please do your part to make the culture of your organization supportive of new lawyers. Please do your part to reduce the stigma of asking for help. A lawyer’s health and life matter. Show them that you get that.

Robin-Wolpert-HeadshotROBIN M. WOLPERT is a legal strategist, litigator, and appellate lawyer at Sapientia Law Group, where she focuses her practice on complex business litigation, data privacy, constitutional law, and political law compliance. Robin represents clients in litigation involving private parties or the government, parallel civil and criminal proceedings, civil and criminal appeals, and investigations.

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