By JILL SWITZER
A recent article in the weekend Wall Street Journal had some fascinating points to make about the training and retention of millennials in the banking/investment banking industries, and I think that many of those points apply equally to millennial/newbie lawyers.
Retention is a problem for the finance industry and it is becoming a problem for the legal industry as well. In finance, millennials are leaving, not just to join hedge funds or private equity funds to boost their income, but they’re leaving for startups and other employers where they feel that they won’t just be cogs in wheels, but can actively contribute to the business at hand, rather than the repetitive drudgery of spreadsheets and Power Point stacks. Sound familiar? It should.
We have the same problem in our profession, assigning millennials to document review, drafting and responding to discovery, form documentation work, all the drudgery work that makes up so much of so many lawyers’ lives, and that we all had to do as part of our training. I wonder how many of us would have ever gone to law school had we known how much routine and yes, even boring, paperwork there is, decades into the practice.
In my days, it was Perry Mason and The Defenders (if you’re not familiar with the latter, Google it, a great show) that factored into my thinking to be a lawyer. For newer lawyers, it was probably L.A. Law, The Practice, The Good Wife, among others. How many times, if ever, did we see these TV lawyers slaving over a motion to compel or a motion for summary judgment? How many times, if ever, did we see TV lawyers review files or plead telephonically with the court clerk trying to get that default judgment entered? How many times did we ever see an associate breathlessly run into the partner’s office, having found a case on all fours? “None” is the number that comes to my mind. Yours? These tasks are all part of a lawyer’s job, like them or not.
So, what do we do to train and retain lawyers? Practical skills training in law school only get the students so far. What the Journal found in numerous interviews was a tension between hierarchical culture and the desire for the younger employees to have more substantive work earlier in their careers. So, is the concept of “paying your dues,” e.g. doing the crap work that the senior lawyers had to do early in their careers, still viable? “I had to do it, so you do, too.” (Don’t get me started on the California Bar Exam being reduced from three days to two starting in 2017… talk about a rite of passage….)