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How grads can find satisfaction within their 1st law firm environment

As junior lawyers are increasingly entering firms and then leaving before reaching a more senior level, firms need to offer up more information to grads on their training practices and the type of work they’ll be doing to build trust.

user iconLauren Croft 13 July 2022 Big Law
How grads can find satisfaction within their 1st law firm environment
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That’s something Fionn Bowd, chief executive of boutique law firm Bowd, said will help take some of the stress away from lawyers just beginning their legal careers.

Speaking recently on Legal Lightbulbs – the newest podcast stream from Lawyers Weekly and Bowd – Ms Bowd said that whilst the issue of grad retention is certainly not a new one among junior lawyers, those entering the profession need to do so with open eyes.

“Junior lawyers and young lawyers need to move into a state of more ongoing inquiry, and continue to try to educate themselves and read outside of the law, read unexpected materials, listen to podcasts, listen to whatever they can get their hands on that can help them understand how the work environment and the law firm environment works,” she said.

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“I understand that it’s very, very difficult for them to get any kind of truth about it all. They just generally get the sense that it’s pretty hellish, but then all the firms tell them that it’s really not that bad, and then they’re trying to work out, well, are there any firms where it’s less hellish than others, and how would I tell, and what would that look like, and is this sort of really a sort of a fake idea, but they don’t know what the hellishness is.”

Whilst most grads tend to focus on the long hours within law firms, Ms Bowd explained that what younger lawyers should really be prepared for is the training methods, the “lack of positive feedback” and the lack of autonomy.

“Law students aren’t scared of hard work; what they’re not prepared for is doing work that they consider to be beneath them. They’re not prepared for doing incredibly low-value work to their perception. They expect to be being challenged, and they’re not given anything that’s particularly hard. They’re given things that are incredibly routine, incredibly time-consuming, that seem very unimportant. They often don’t understand how it fits — and aren’t told — within the bigger picture of the clients, so they don’t even get that satisfaction they were hoping for that they’re doing interesting things for interesting clients,” she said.

“They don’t even understand what the job is they’re doing and how it fits in. They don’t get any HDs. They don’t get any pluses. They don’t get any ticks. They just get silence, and they’re completely unprepared for that kind of withdrawal of dopamine and that withdrawal of approval that’s really, really painful because most of us are the types of people who seek the approval of authority figures. We seek the approval of teachers. We seek the approval of our lecturers.”

The lack of approval combined with unfamiliar training methods can leave junior lawyers feeling out of control — both in terms of their schedule and the work they’re doing, according to Ms Bowd.

“Even if they know that it’s going to be hard and they know it’s going to be stressful, they know it’s going to be lots of work, they have no true idea about what that looks like and how it’s going to feel and how unprepared they are for all of the feelings that come with that environment, and that’s one of the things that I think we have to talk about, that law firms should talk about,” she added.

“These are some of the things that actually can’t be changed. They’re not actually going to change, and so you do need to prepare for them, and as much as possible, those of us who are on the outside need to help.”

However, Ms Bowd argued that the way of training juniors in the profession is not “broken” — firms just need to be honest with their grads to help manage their expectations.

“When you’re a lawyer, when you’re a junior lawyer, you don’t realise that that means if you were given a brief the next day and you did it and the next day you’ve given something else, that means you’re earning their trust. You need to see that as a win. Oh, I’m earning their trust. Oh, this is something that’s going to take me time,” she said.

“If you can see that as a success, as a win, as you doing well at your job, that will help your mental health, that will help your feelings of satisfaction, your feelings of reward, your little dopamine hit that we all need. Those are the kinds of conversations about what training looks like and what it’s like to be trained and how we can take satisfaction in learning, but it just looks different to what we expected.”

Therefore, communicating with junior lawyers what success looks like, how long it will be until they have autonomy over their own files and when they will start to train other lawyers and become “part of the ecosystem”, as well as understanding any structural problems within the firm would “make a huge difference”, added Ms Bowd.

“It’s not you. It’s not that you can’t cut it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with you. It’s that nobody’s got the answers, and you have to kind of live with the uncertainty and the lack of knowledge about what it will be like for you as a partner or as a senior lawyer because everybody’s still trying to figure this stuff out, and it’s going to take a really long time,” she said.  

“Focus on doing what’s in front of you and doing it really, really well no matter how minor or mediocre it might seem, and then win people’s trust, and start to see what it looks like when you’re succeeding. I think those two things, that sort of knowledge and approach to information and looking at what’s in front of you would make a huge difference to a huge number of young lawyers.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Fionn Bowd, click below:

 

Lauren Croft

Lauren Croft

Lauren is a journalist at Lawyers Weekly and graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from Macleay College. Prior to joining Lawyers Weekly, she worked as a trade journalist for media and travel industry publications and Travel Weekly. Originally born in England, Lauren enjoys trying new bars and restaurants, attending music festivals and travelling. She is also a keen snowboarder and pre-pandemic, spent a season living in a French ski resort.

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