Advocates for Starving Advocates

Harsh Reply/Job Application to My Shingle’s Caroyln Elefant

AN OPEN LETTER TO AN EXPERIENCED ATTORNEY WHO PICKS ON EASY TARGETS

Dear, Carolyn Elefant:

My name is David Brown. I am writing as an admirer of your blog, The Shingle, and your dedication to helping solo and small practitioners succeed. However, as an attorney recently admitted to the Massachusetts Bar, I am also writing in defense of new lawyers, whom I believe you criticized unfairly in your recent post, “Open Letter to New Lawyer: You should be dragging me into the 21st century not the other way around.”

For the sake of my readers, I will explain that you took exception with the fact that we lack certain skills necessary to assist a practice like yours. Apparently, we know nothing about RSS feeds, Twitter, Pinterest or YouTube. Also, we don’t even read blogs, never mind write them (how you ever thought we were going to find your open letter remains a mystery to me). As should be apparent by now, I do read blogs. I also write them. I have subscribed to RSS feeds, and I have edited my own videos and posted them to YouTube. Pinterest planned my wedding. (Subtext: Job, Please!) But I will acknowledge that you are right: Many new lawyers are woefully lacking in these kinds of skills and do not understand how social media tools are applicable to running a successful, modern practice.

Here’s the thing: It isn’t their fault.

First of all, we had the gall to seek a job from you because we’re unemployed and we’re asking EVERYBODY. As you may have inferred from the swarms of computer-illiterate JDs stirring at your gates, approximately 50 percent of law school graduates fail to find full-time legal work within nine months of graduation. So, while you’re in the business of finger-pointing, please consider that the bleak state of the job market is far more attributable to your generation than it is to ours. (Frankly, if the attorneys of your generation had developed some appreciation for managing overhead, perhaps we would not be in this predicament. As people young enough to be your children, I think it’s equally unfortunate that we have to scold you about business management, but this is a topic for another blog post on another blog).

What’s genuinely interesting about your open letter is that you express a desire to school us on developing legal work product. “These skills are what I’m willing to teach you,” you said. But you’re not willing to share insight on the non-legal skills that would make us valuable employees, because we’re supposed to know those, because we’re young. “… what I can’t abide is having to teach you how to tweet about current events.  How to set up an RSS feed. How to track and stay on top of news from two or three industry blogs.”

In these statements, you have inadvertently expressed the great disservice your generation is committing in the training of new lawyers. Judging from the material on your blog, I would say that you are not in league with established legal academics resistant to change. But much as you are resistent to teach us about Twitter, law schools have little to no interest in introducing us to the non-legal skills lawyers need. Legal educators want to teach the law, but not the skills necessary to practice it. Some of them are woefully ignorant about the realities of the legal industry. If you want to better understand recent graduates who fail to grasp the technical realities of their generation, you must look to the people who educated them. It hardly seems fair to put the blame on law students for not taking the time to absorb Twitter, for example. In fact, as a recent law-school graduate, I recall that Twitter was gaining its foothold in the collective consciousness during my 1L campaign, a time when many law students feel compelled to disconnect from the collective consciousness. I stick by my decision to prioritize the Mailbox Rule over hashtags (#1Ltunnelvision).

Law students are not particularly deserving of a harsh rebuke for not knowing skills that law schools are doing their stalwart best not to teach. I appreciate your eloquence on this topic, Ms. Elefant, but I would urge you to shift it toward law schools, a more deserving target that really should know better.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Brown is a founding partner of Boston Microlaw, LLP, a practice of small business attorneys in Boston, and a graduate of the Northeastern University School of Law. He once set up a MySpace account all by himself.

  • Hi,

    Thanks for responding to my post which seems to have generated more comment than it deserves. I hope to do a round up response soon. You certainly raise some good points in your post. I do agree that lawyers of my generation are largely to blame for the sorry state of today’s profession. In particular, large firms kept raising rates like drunken sailors and hiring associates to feed the beast, which fueled law school admissions. When the economy tanked in 2009, new lawyers were first to be abandoned, and the loss of 14,000 associate jobs put downward pressure on the law firm economy making it harder for lawyers at lower tiered schools to find jobs. Meanwhile, it should have been partners who ran their firms into the ground who were forced out. In any event, history is what it is and here we are.
    In terms of law schools’ role in this mess, they do need to continue to make sure that students have the substantive skills needed in practice. I seem to recall that when I graduated, I could research and write a fairly cogent brief, but those skills seem harder to find. On the marketing/business end, I don’t necessarily think that law schools need to teach blogging or twitter as a course but offering career office programs and encouraging students to gain exposure instead of discouraging would be helpful.
    I feel a sense of obligation to the next generation of lawyers. As an independent lawyer in a specialized practice area, it is really not easy for me to hire new lawyers but since they can’t gain experience in places they once did (every regulatory agency and law firm wants someone with experience), I am willing to step up. But it’s easier for me to do that if the people I work with bring something to the table.
    BTW, love the MicroLaw concept and look of your law firm website.

    • davebrown

      Thank you for attention and kind words. I’ve been studying the issues surrounding the plight of the legal industry for the last few months in connection with a project that is trying to do something about it (more news coming soon on this and other blogs), and I couldn’t have articulated this as well you did. Spot on.

      I believe your post got a lot of attention because you touched a nerve. People in my peer group do not want to hear that they took on a six-figure debt, buried their lives in books for three years and have no marketable skills to show for it. Just as our heads emerged from the waters of bar examination, here comes one of the big kids to shove us back below the surface. Of course, I think the point of your post is well-found. New attorneys in this market need more skills, more craftiness and more creativity to realize their value.

      I also agree that it’s not a law school’s responsibility to teach the skills you discussed. Not directly. But it is the school’s responsibility to prepare us for life after graduation. If schools told law students to figure out Twitter, then law students would do that, because that’s what law students do. Instead, we’re repeatedly instructed to “network,” with little insight on how best to network. This is why you have clueless new lawyers showing up entirely unprepared on how to demonstrate their value to you (or what value to demonstrate). Of course, as someone who has these skills and has been out in the world, I can tell you that many attorneys of YOUR generation lack the technological savvy to tap their value. They overpay someone else to do their social networking and SEO, because it seems easier (and may very well be). Nonetheless, it is up to us to cultivate and demonstrate as much value as possible wherever we can, so you’re ultimately right. Please understand, however, that you delivered this message in a manner that portrays young attorneys as fools, a portrayal we’re not taking kindly to these days.

      Again, thank you for compliments on my practice. And if you are interested in helping out a couple of young attorneys, it would be especially great if you could re-Tweet this blog post to your followers. #marketing(!)

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