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Young Lawyers Matter

Young Lawyers Matter

By Karen Finch

Workplace Relations Young Persons 

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“Young lawyers are the pivot generation of the legal industry” – Jennie Pakula, Consumer Engagement at the VLSBC, during her presentation at The Legal Forecast’s TLFOnSpeaker series session on 4 August 2020.

During the first lockdown in Melbourne, I attended a virtual event organised by the Young Lawyers Section at the Law Institute of Victoria. During that session, an incredibly accomplished, articulate, intelligent young lawyer made a comment that impacted me greatly – “My voice doesn’t matter.”

With four simple words, I was propelled back to my early days as a newly graduated lawyer nervously waiting in the Family Court for my client’s matter to be mentioned and having absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do or say. I remember feeling embarrassed and anxious and when my matter was finally called before the court, I was berated and belittled by the judge for my lack of knowledge and awkwardness, in earshot of other members of the legal profession who were laughing at my inexperience and humiliation. Needless to say, it was a horrific experience that left a lasting impression on me.

Back then it was called a “baptism by fire”. The thinking was that you earned your stripes by being thrown into the deep end to sink or swim. It could involve being singled out in meetings by a senior lawyer or partner and made to feel stupid, being yelled at by a partner if you didn’t act quickly enough or made a mistake, or being told by HR that abusive behaviour by your superiors was just something you needed to put up with if you wanted to progress within the firm.

That was my experience many years ago and it seems more in line with the law firms featured in John Grisham novels. Yet the brutal reality is that this is still an experience that many younger members in the legal profession experience today.

Why? Does this type of behaviour make lawyers better practitioners? Does it make them more valuable to clients? Does it improve their expertise and knowledge? The short answer is no.

The truth of the matter is that often the senior lawyers and partners who are dishing out this type of abuse were often the victims of the same behaviour in the early stages of their own legal careers. They have adopted the mentality that “I had to put up with it, and so should you”.

Thankfully, there is a different type of law firm and law firm partner evolving today.

The term “NewLaw” often conjures up thoughts of non-traditional pricing models, legal technology and different modes of legal service delivery. But another focus of NewLaw firms is a desire to achieve a whole life balance for the people working within the law firm. They want to create flexible ways for their lawyers to work, they want their teams to work collaboratively, not competitively, and they focus on nurturing young talent within the firm.

In essence, they put people at the centre of their law firm.

One brilliant example of this type of firm is Hive Legal. Hive Legal was set up over six years ago as a fully remote, flexible working law firm. Their emphasis is on human-centred design and their core values include creativity and collaboration. As Melissa Lyon, Hive Legal's Associate Principal, says, “Happy lawyers, happy clients.”

It is such a simple concept, but so effective and has led to Hive Legal becoming one of Australia’s most innovative, award-winning law firms. Melissa Lyon was recently crowned Innovator of the Year for 2020 at the Australian Law Awards.

In today’s climate, young lawyers should be seen as extremely important and valued resources within firms. With an innate ability to navigate this fully digital world we now find ourselves thrust into, firms should be seeking out the expertise of their younger members to develop strategies to engage their clients in the virtual environment.

Last month, I posted an open invitation on LinkedIn to all young lawyers to have a virtual coffee with me. My motivation for doing this was the inspiring young lawyer who made the “my voice doesn’t matter” comment. I’ve since had the most incredible experiences speaking to some of the most inspiring young lawyers, law students and law graduates around Australia. I’ve been so lucky to hear their stories, their worries, their concerns, their incredible ideas and, most of all, I’ve been able to tell them how important their voice is and how much the legal industry needs them to help pivot the industry through this new COVID landscape.

I’m now on a personal mission to transform these “little” voices into “big” ones. I want to hear your views, listen to your ideas and help you connect with others in the legal profession that do value your minds and ability. My virtual coffee invitation remains open for any young lawyers who would like to have their voice heard.

Karen Finch is a non-practicing lawyer, entrepreneur and legal tech founder. She is the co-founder and CEO of Legally Yours and sits on the board of the Australian Legal Tech Association.


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