I enjoy the practice of law—well, most days. I enjoy
helping people, the work is always interesting, and it pays well. But for
many of us, it was not always this way.
The first several years of practicing law can be demanding, stressful
and overwhelming. For me, it was the guidance of many great mentors
over the years that helped me learn the art, the profession, the business,
and the nuts and bolts of the practice of law. They made the difference.
So how can the next generation of lawyers truly learn
the profession when the large
firms aren’t hiring in large
numbers, the smaller firms
can’t provide “on the job”
training, or a newly admitted
lawyer simply can’t find work
in a structured atmosphere?
As your new State Bar
President, one of my primary
focuses over the next year will
be to learn whether the next
generation of lawyers is getting appropriate mentoring
and experience, and whether
the Bar can do more. That’s
important because the art of
being a great attorney is not
learned in books or the classroom. It’s learned through
hard work, perseverance and experience (aka bad decisions). Paired with
those elements, some great mentors can help propel you forward even
more quickly. In the age of smartphones, the Internet and Wikipedia, are
the more senior members of the Bar now considered obsolete? I certainly
I would like to hear from the members of the Bar—particularly the
newer members—and have a dialogue over the next year. If
members have practice questions or issues they would like to
have addressed in this column, please send me an email. Hopefully I or one of my seasoned mentors will be able to answer
your questions and provide helpful advice.
This column—and a few that follow—will examine indicators that suggest you could benefit from having a strong mentor in your law practice. Believe it or not, whatever situation
you may find yourself in, another lawyer has been there before.
Having a mentor with some experience can help clear the fog
on which direction to go. And these mentoring tips are not just
for the next generation of lawyers, but for everyone who is still
honing his or her craft—which I think includes all of us.
So let’s get started. Here are a few indications that a mentor
might make a difference in your law practice:
Are you working long hours for clients
who are not paying their bills?
As one of my partners advised me years ago,
“You cannot help anyone if you cannot keep
your lights on.” Often in our effort to help
clients and see their case to a conclusion,
we end up inheriting their problems and
financial consequences. It takes money to
run a firm every month, and if you are not
charging for your time, make sure you know
your fixed costs to open the doors every
month—i.e., monthly operating expenses,
divided by your reasonably available time
to bill. If you decide to work for no fee by
choice, remember that it is actually costing
you money. Perhaps you should offer an “at
cost” fee instead of, say, $75 per hour. Otherwise, make sure it is a worthy cause that
deserves the money it will cost you and the
time it will take you away from your other
interests and family. If you are in a pattern
where you keep having files that are not paying and that later become your problem, it
may be time for a mentor in your practice.
Do you have a hard time saying “no” to
Again, as one of my mentors aptly put it,
“No work is better than bad work.” The client who gives off red flags of being a problem—like shopping on his third (or seventh)
new lawyer, an inconsistent recollection of
the facts from day to day, facts that don’t
sync with records, the sense that the client is
accepting no responsibility for the situation,
and lawsuits on principle with no tangible
result—all of that may be signs to say “No.”
And if you can’t say no to potentially bad
work, it may be time for a mentor.
Do these issues sound familiar, for you or
for colleagues? Next month and in upcoming columns, I’ll cover more of these red-flag situations. And I believe these topics
should include some that come from you.
I hope to receive your law practice questions to address and your feedback on what
I cover. Please send your topics and input to
me at email@example.com.
by Alex Vakula PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
Whatever situation you may
find yourself in, another
lawyer has been there
before. Having a mentor
with some experience can
help clear the fog.
How a Mentor Could Help