When it comes to developing those coming through the ranks, senior legal professionals can learn a lot from the processes involved with nurturing a back garden, writes Beth Rolton.
As predicted, the Great Resignation impacts almost all industries and professions, and the legal sector is not immune. Employers are increasingly suffering from the dreaded “hiring headache” as they attempt to externally recruit experienced and talented lawyers, particularly in regional areas. To satisfy this skill shortage, law firms are increasingly turning to growing their own talent and nurturing their junior lawyers into the future leaders of their firms.
According to the Australian Financial Review, approximately 8,000 new law graduates each year in Australia. Of these, about 60 per cent secure positions within law firms. Unfortunately, many of these talented graduates leave the law due to dissatisfaction within their first three years of practice in search of careers in other industries.
This statistic raises the question of what law firms need to do to ensure their early-career lawyers stay engaged and grow into the leaders of tomorrow. Growing the future leaders of your firm is much like growing a garden. Like early-career lawyers, gardens thrive when we take the time to do it right.
From my experience as a compensation lawyer for over 10 years, I have managed many teams, and I also have the unique insight from practising in a regional community, being based in sunny Cairns, Queensland. As my mentoring role is expanding, I have taken a moment to share my top four tips for growing your garden of future legal talent:
Get the soil and culture right
Firstly, we must ensure we have the right soil. The soil in which we plant our garden is akin to the culture that surrounds a junior lawyer. Is it healthy and full of nutrients? No matter how talented your junior lawyer or how much potential they may have, without good culture in the firm (or good soil surrounding the roots), it is unlikely that they will thrive and reach their potential. A plant without good soil may survive for a while but will not grow and flourish. The importance of positive workplace culture cannot be underestimated. Law firms need to have a genuine interest in the wellbeing of their staff and create an environment that encourages their growth through meaningful work. In the absence of positive culture, your early-career lawyers are more likely to jump ship and look for opportunities elsewhere.
Invest time and have patience
Secondly, we must invest time and have patience. Gardening is a long-term commitment, and one must be generous with their time to routinely prune, weed, water and monitor. Junior lawyers are much the same. They need time to develop their knowledge, learn from their mistakes and hone their skills. They need support during this period of growth, much like a small shrub may need a stake for a period before it has the strength to confidently stand on its own. Be prepared to guide your juniors and invest your time in giving meaningful and considered feedback. Many experienced and accomplished lawyers credit their early-career mentors for their success and career progression. Now is the time to gift that experience to your junior lawyer. In the long term, this will pay dividends, and this investment will likely be rewarded in a lasting, committed employee and colleague.
It’s time to nourish, encourage and lead
Thirdly, our budding lawyers require regular watering and fertilising. Achieving a more rapid and healthy growing garden requires watering and fertilising. Investing in your junior lawyers’ ongoing learning is the nourishment they need to become capable and competent lawyers. Neither gardens nor early-career lawyers flourish in a set-and-forget environment. Encouraging your junior lawyers’ to be lifelong learners will mean that they will continue to grow and be passionate about the law. This also means leading by example. Does your firm place weight and importance on continuing education? Are the leaders of the firm undertaking their own continuous learning? Today’s law firms need to invest in their junior lawyer’s education, encourage them to take ownership of their ongoing learning and create a work environment where ongoing learning is valued and demonstrated at every level.
Are you the right fit for mentoring?
Finally, it would help if you have passion and genuine interest. Mentoring junior lawyers, just like creating a garden, requires an investment of time and enthusiasm. If gardening is not for you and plastic plants are more your thing, recognise this and leave the gardening (mentoring) to others. However, if you are in a small firm that doesn’t have someone else to do it, then be aware of your reluctance and how a junior lawyer would interpret it. Those who are not naturally inclined to mentor junior staff have to be conscious of this and ensure their lack of enthusiasm doesn’t translate to a lack of interest in the growth of their junior lawyer.
The junior lawyer does not just reap the benefits of effective mentoring; the mentor also benefits from the satisfaction of growing a competent and engaged team member and potential future leader.
Beth Rolton is a special counsel at Travis Schultz & Partners.