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Bush and ’burbs lawyers unite

News

Cite as: (2007) 81(12) LIJ, p. 31


Employment of young lawyers was at the top of the issues discussed at the LIV’s inaugural conference for country and suburban lawyers.

Solicitors from across Victoria hotly debated tactics for recruiting and retaining young lawyers at the inaugural Country and Suburban Law Association Conference at the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV).

The attendees also discussed dealing with media pressures, electronic communication, professional development activities, accessing government contracts and implementing the 2008 traineeships system [see “Traineeships system set for first-class take-off”, on page 26 of this month’s LIJ].

LIV Young Lawyers’ Section manager Donna Adams told the conference that corporate and firm knowledge would be lost when baby boomer lawyers retired unless measures were taken to recruit and retain young lawyers.

She said Generation Y lawyers were choosing to move away from investing in the years of education and skill development required to become a managing partner.

Instead, young lawyers believed in maintaining an active lifestyle while moving from firm to firm every three to five years, Ms Adams said.

She said this was why law firms, particularly suburban and regional practices, must work to employ and support young lawyers.

Guest speaker Kriss Will Consulting managing director Kriss Will said recruiting and retaining young lawyers was an Australia-wide issue.

“Firms must work on their profile to make themselves known to young lawyers. They must promote the quality of work the firm can offer, and sell the lifestyle of country living,” Ms Will said.

“Firms need to think about who they are targeting and how.

“Country towns can be warm and welcoming, but they can also be cliquey and isolating.”

Ms Adams revealed results of a survey she conducted of fourth and fifth-year city solicitors about what would attract them to work in the country.

She said the four most common attractions cited were:

  • being able to work one or two days from home;
  • the firm’s willingness to pay for a post-graduate course;
  • an equivalent salary to city firms, although most said they would allow for some income flexibility; and
  • the ability to lead an active social life.

Ms Adams said other attractions for young lawyers included the possibility of profit share in the revenue of the firm and the option of a 12-month secondment to another firm or business.

If country or suburban law firms wanted to retain young lawyers they would need to help solicitors become part of the community, she said.

The selling points needed to attract Generation Y lawyers to the bush were debated at the conference for more than an hour and discussions continued later over dinner.

Longstanding LIV Councillor and Traralgon lawyer Mark Woods said the discussion that followed Ms Adams’ presentation between young and senior lawyers was vital.

The Tyler Tipping & Woods Solicitors partner said the things that attracted him to practise in the country after growing up in Essendon were different to what young lawyers looked for today.

Mr Woods, who developed the idea for the “bush and ’burbs” conference, said it did not occur to him that young lawyers would be enticed to work in the country if they were able to work from home.

“I didn’t think of that as a selling point,” he said.

“Another major point raised by the young lawyers who were at the conference was the need for greater mentoring services to help them overcome the feeling of isolation which a lot felt in the suburbs and the country.”

LIV CEO Mike Brett Young said the LIV would work to update its mentoring scheme advice as a result of the conference.

The LIV, through its website http://www.liv.asn.au/members/hr/manage/manage-Mentorin.html, offers advice to firms about how to implement informal and formal mentoring programs.

An informal scheme usually consisted of a senior and junior employee naturally transforming their working relationship into a mentorship.

A formal mentoring scheme was a structured program in which the firm formally paired senior and junior employees.

The formal programs required careful management, such as training for mentors and their mentees, obtaining feedback from participants and conducting evaluations of the program.

Western District Law Association president and Warrnambool lawyer James Nicol praised the conference and said more young lawyers should be enticed to move to provincial Victoria.

“There were useful tips about how to deal with the media and networking opportunities, which helped us to find out what other law associations are doing,” Mr Nicol said.

More than a third of the conference attendees were young lawyers, and participants had travelled from as far as Mildura and Yackandandah.

Twenty-eight representatives from the LIV’s 10 country law associations (CLAC) and five suburban law associations (SLAC) attended the October conference.

LIV Professional Development manager Julie McCormack said the conference would be repeated next year as part of the LIV’s 2008 CPD conference program.

“The focus of the conference was particularly on practical skill development and personal enhancement,” she said.

Ms McCormack’s presentation on how firms could offer professional development activities covered teleconference and catering options, links with educational institutions and tips on how to get the balance of topics right for participants.

Former LIV media adviser Colleen Coghlan gave lawyers instructions on how to manage media inquiries [see “Media tips” on this page].

Ms Coghlan advised firms to have clear key messages when talking with journalists.

She said when firms dealt with the media, spokespeople must be well briefed, only embark on communications activity when the details were in perfect order, never lie, consider truth, timing and courtesy and not convey personal opinions.

LIV Marketing manager Sue Noble spoke about effective communication with members, including web email facilities.

She informed members of a new service developed by the LIV to allow each CLAC and SLAC to communicate with their members using the LIV website.

For more information about the LIV’s country and suburban law associations see http://www.liv.asn.au/directory/lawasns. A full list of the associations and their presidents is also available at “LIV Governance and Representation” on page 105 of this month’s LIJ.

HARRIET MORLEY

Media tips for regional and suburban firms

As law firms increasingly work to boost their profile through the media, the LIV offers some tips on how to handle media inquiries and what to avoid when responding to a journalist.

Do’s

  • be honest
  • have an understanding of their deadlines and priorities
  • be proactive with stories
  • be honest and courteous

Don’ts

  • be unnecessarily secretive
  • limit access to the CEO, chair, partner, president etc.
  • use jargon and spin
  • consider the media is the enemy

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