Learning From Those You Teach: Tips for Working with Junior Lawyers
Kim Jakeman recently wrote about reverse learning in her blog post “How to become a better lawyer by learning from those you teach” (you can read it here). Inspired by that post, I surveyed junior associates and asked them for their insights into “what makes a good senior”. Here is the (aggregated) feedback I received:
– Give clear instructions. Taking the time to explain the task properly can save time because we can do the task more efficiently. It will also mean less questions from us later.
– Put yourself in the place of the junior when you are giving instructions. Remember that we do not have the same level of experience and may not know things that you now take for granted.
– Explain not only “what” needs to be done, but also “why” it needs to be done. We appreciate it when a senior lawyer takes the extra couple of minutes to explain the significance of what they are asking us to do (i.e., why it might be important for the overall strategy of the file). We learn so much more from senior counsel who walk us through file strategy than from those who just assign tasks.
– Discuss the file with us when you make a major decision. It’s frustrating when we find out after the fact that a senior lawyer made a major decision on a file we’re on and we didn’t get a chance to observe and be part of the decision-making process.
KEEP JUNIORS LOOPED-IN ON FILES
– Keep us involved in the file. We like when a senior lawyer gets us involved in a file and then keeps us involved (i.e., cc’ing us on e-mails, asking our advice about what we think should be done next, keeping us involved in drafting and research that comes up throughout the file, and involving us in client meetings). We find it is helpful to our learning to see how the file is progressing and how our work is being used.
– Give us opportunities to learn. If you are working with a first or second year call, try to keep the junior in mind when doing things like expert calls, witness prep, discoveries, or even chambers. Watching and listening to those things is so helpful before we do it on our own, and even after we’ve done a couple on our own. We may not have access to the senior lawyer’s calendar or may not want to constantly be asking to attend things when we don’t know what the senior lawyer would find appropriate or helpful to include us in.
– Respond to us in a timely manner. We know senior lawyers are busy, but it’s nerve wracking as a junior if our emails or calls aren’t answered for days on end.
AVAILABILITY FOR MENTORSHIP
– Reach out and be a proactive mentor. Touch base with us to see how we are doing (with files, or just generally). If we know a senior lawyer cares about us, it further encourages us to do a good job for that lawyer and not want to let them down.
– Dedicate time to be available for questions and review of files. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to bug a senior lawyer with questions, but having a mentor who sets aside time to regularly sit down and chat about our files and answer our general practice questions is really helpful and helps ease some of our anxiety.
GIVE FEEDBACK AND RESPOND CONSTRUCTIVELY
– Take time to give constructive feedback on work. We find it really helpful when a lawyer provides us with the revised or final draft of a document on which we have been working on so we can see the changes they have made (bonus points when they take the time to sit down with us and talk about changes and what could be improved). One easy way of doing this is using track changes. It creates a couple of extra e-mails because the changes have to be accepted and turned off, but it’s a really simple way of showing your junior what you changed, and then your junior can digest that and the onus can be placed back on them to ask you why those changes were made if they don’t understand or want to discuss it further.
– Be supportive when things do not go as planned, and allow us the opportunity to learn from it. We’re not asking to be handled with kid gloves, but we already have a tendency to beat ourselves up when we don’t meet expectations. We’ve had good and bad experiences with senior lawyers. The good experiences are when we’re treated with patience and given guidance about how to handle the situation and improve in the future (bonus points for a story from the senior lawyer about a time when they made a mis-step as a junior). The bad experiences have been when we’ve been told something was wrong and the senior has just stepped in without discussing the issue with us or allowing us the opportunity to learn.
About the Author
Emilie LeDuc is a Research Associate and Professional Development Coordinator with Harper Grey. She supports the firm’s senior lawyers with legal research, analysis, and drafting, and oversees the firm’s student program. Emilie is also an Adjunct Professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law, teaching Law 430: Advanced Legal Research.