Millennials: Mentoring & Building Relationships


I hear from both senior lawyers and younger lawyers, aka “millennials” of a failure to communicate and lack of common ground on mutual expectations.  Millennials have so much to offer– we baby boomers often forget that we did not graduate from law school ready to step-in and practice– we are often too harsh in our criticisms.  Surveys show that millennials want to be mentored, not managed.  I believe this not only requires patience in supervising assignments but also a coherent, structured approached to professional development by leadership.

Insights & Tips

  • Gap between perception of roles of senior lawyers and younger, millennial lawyers
  • Millennials view senior lawyers as mentors & back-up to fix their work
  • Supervising lawyers want associates to perform their work well to provide value for clients
  • Professional development is continual and works best when structured in a transparent manner.

The following is an excerpt from Grover E. Cleveland, Esquire, Above the Law, July 17, 2015.

Understanding how to build relationships with senior lawyers is another challenge for new lawyers. A question on that topic revealed a huge disconnect between  professionals and their associates. In responding to the statement: “Associates should treat senior lawyers as their clients,” 93% of PD professionals agreed. Only 54% of millennial lawyers agreed.

Why the gap? Some new lawyers view senior lawyers primarily as mentors – or their backup. There is a common misconception among new lawyers that the role of more senior lawyers is to fix the work of junior lawyers. Senior lawyers do not want to do that. Supervising attorneys will perform a quality-control function, but they want junior lawyers to do their own work and do it well. Clients won’t pay for work and rework.

To succeed, millennial lawyers must provide value to senior lawyers, just as those lawyers provide value to external clients. But the concept of providing value can seem foreign to new grads. Providing value is generally not a skill that law schools teach or require.

Although the skills lawyers learn in school are critical, millennial associates understand they have much more to master. In recent years law schools have made significant strides in providing more practical skills training. But despite this progress, 72% of the millennial lawyers disagreed with the statement: “Law school prepared me to practice law.”

The PD professionals disagreed even more. In that group, 87% responded that law school had not prepared associates for practice. Only 13% of the PD professionals agreed that law school had prepared associates to practice law.

By contrast, when BARBRI surveyed third-year law students earlier this year, it found that 71% believe they “possess sufficient practice skills.” Why the disparate results? Until law students begin practice, they don’t know what they don’t know.


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