We need mentors: an open letter to senior attorneys

by Matt Pinsker

This is an open letter to the senior members of the legal community. I ask you to think back to the days of your very first legal job. While some of you setup as solo practitioners, most of you were in an environment where you, newly licensed and not knowing how to practice, found yourself surrounded by more experienced attorneys who took the time to show you the ropes. These experienced attorneys were your advisors, mentors, teachers, offered guidance, or at the least looked over your shoulder from time-to-time to provide feedback. Today, it seems that many of you have forgotten how others helped you out when you first started.

It is no secret that law school does little to prepare one for the actual practice of law. Our profession has historically relied on senior attorneys taking the time to train newly admitted members. The training of young attorneys is an important part of ensuring the future of the profession by maintaining the standards of excellence which have made the American lawyer one of the most prestigious jobs in the world. Unfortunately, this aspect or legal training is increasingly being neglected.

Today, very few job openings are entry-level, but instead are asking for at least a couple years of experience. Few senior attorneys are willing to do what someone once did for them and teach a new attorney how to practice in those critical first years. This is not healthy for the legal profession. First, it creates a subclass of new lawyers in the Catch-22 where they are unable to get experience practicing law because they don’t have the experience to be hired. Second, it degrades the overall quality of the legal profession because it sets loose inexperienced and untrained lawyers who will start taking cases beyond their competency just to make ends meet.

I do understand why you senior attorneys are reluctant to take the time to mentor new lawyers. Despite being paid less, new attorneys are less efficient, take time away from your busy schedule, and with today’s mobile market, once we are trained are likely to move on in a few years. Still, I appeal to lawyers to reconsider this trend. I obviously cannot make an economic argument to hire a new attorney, but instead, I will appeal to your pride in our profession and ask that you mentor new lawyers to maintain our high standards. I will also appeal to your hearts by reminding you that someone once took the time to teach you when you were new, and ask that you pay it forward by taking the time to train a new lawyer. Newly licensed attorneys today are facing challenges you did not including a bad economy, slow legal market, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Still, we are like you when you first started out in that we are determined, motivated, and eager to prove ourselves. All we are asking for is opportunity.

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Matt Pinsker is a graduate of George Washington University Law School

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