Finding a niche, getting clients, student loans: Lawyers say new calls are pulled in all directions

Young lawyers split on how to best use their mentorship opportunities, poll says

Finding a niche, getting clients, student loans: Lawyers say new calls are pulled in all directions

New calls and early career lawyers need all the help they can get — at least that’s what Law Times readers said in a recent poll.

The poll — which was not scientific and did not track who voted — was split on how young lawyers should prioritize their mentorship opportunities. Asked, “What type of guidance is most needed for early career lawyers or new calls?,” 24.1 per cent responded that more advice was needed on “how or when to choose or change your practice area.” A similar share of respondents, 13,  said “how to get clients” was the biggest challenge for lawyers starting out. A slightly smaller share, 22.2 per cent (12 votes), responded that the biggest area of need for young lawyers was balancing their workload with pressures outside of work -- such as student loan repayment and personal obligations.

The remaining quarter of respondents were split between a few options: more than 11 per cent (6 votes) wanted more attention on whether to go in-house or stay on the partnership track, while nearly six per cent (3 votes) were interested in guidance on “how or when to choose or change your practice type (ie solo practitioner, boutique or large firm).”

“I was a young associate working as a junior. And when I suddenly got the responsibility to carry some of the files, then I needed to figure out what to do,” says Ian Hu, a lawyer at Carroll Heyd Chown who founded the Facebook group, Canadian Lawyers Personal Finance and will be speaking at Canadian Lawyer’s Young Lawyers Summit in Toronto on June 11.

“I'm sure many lawyers go through that transition, where you were a junior and you were told what to do. And all you had to do is keep track of a do list and finish what people are telling you to do.”

It’s no surprise that the next generation of lawyers are feeling the pressure of multiple, competing priorities: About 77 per cent of Generation Z, which will make up about 20 per cent of the workforce this year, expect they will have to work harder than previous generations, according to Robert Half Legal. The staffing agency also examined the role of Generation Y (millennials) in the future of law.

Calgary lawyer Harley Winger told Robert Half that the mindset of young lawyers has changed, at least at the boutique firm, Burstall Winger.

“Not everyone wants to stay with a large law firm over the course of their career and eventually become partner. After a few years, some associates are realizing that an entrepreneurial role with a little lifestyle freedom is more appealing.”

At the same times, more firms are stepping in with more formalized mentorship or sponsorship programs. Cythia Thomas Calvert, cofounder of the Project of Attorney Retention, told Robert Half that sponsorship is an important part of fostering inclusion and diversity in the next generation of lawyers, too.

“I can’t tell you how many times I talk to associates in law firms who have no idea what it takes to become partner,” said Joseph West, then-CEO of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, in Robert Half’s report. “There are many reasons they lack insight, including generational issues, a failure on the firms’ part to create and implement effective succession planning, and a fair amount of ‘sharp elbows’ when it comes to business generation and client development.”

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