Junior lawyers can build their careers by building relationships with senior colleagues. In this, the first of three blogs, Tom Pearson, the Africa Professional Services Group’s Chief Commercial Officer, says he has seen, time and again, how asking for guidance reaps benefits.
At its London launch recently, the British Nigeria Law Forum’s Junior Lawyer Division spotlighted how important it is for a junior lawyer to maximise their impact.
As a speaker at the event I picked up on this theme explaining how this could be done through developing relationships, building a profile and using technology.
For this blog I’ll start with the one which is, to my mind, far and away the most important - people and relationships.
By now every lawyer knows the narrative around the commoditization of law namely the impact of technology and the inevitable uprising of half-machine-AI-backed-unstoppable-bill-burning-robo-lawyers stealing all the jobs, clients and controlling lawyers’ destinies. Well, it’s all true! So if you are a lawyer you have made a terrible mistake entering this dying profession…
Of course, this is nonsense!
Yes, technology is more interwoven in the delivery of legal services than ever, but, there will always be a human lawyer behind this integration, and, vitally, presenting (and dare I say selling?) the benefits of what that their embrace of technology can do for clients. And, hopefully, they are also promoting the type and volume of work they are able to undertake and manage successfully.
It should be clear that people and personality will remain central to the success of any lawyer and law firm for many years to come - I would argue indefinitely.
While thinking about my talk for the launch I came across a short video of Steve Jobs talking about a formative experience he had as a young boy. He was very interested in building his own Frequency Counter but lacked a lot of the right components. At the time of this project, the largest producer of such devices was Hewlett Packard. So Steve did what any industrious, 14-year-old future tech billionaire would do and called Bill Hewlett, the CEO and co-founder of Hewlett Packard. Not only did Steve speak to Bill but he was duly mailed plenty of spare parts for his Frequency Counter project and also invited to attend a summer placement on the assembly line for these devices.
The message here is to be fearless in your willingness to ask - and to ask the right people - when you have identified something that would assist you.
To coin a cliche...you miss 100% of the opportunities you don’t take.
The majority of people, even very senior lawyers, are willing to give a valid request or invitation consideration, and can be incredibly generous with time and expertise, when a junior is bold enough to ask for assistance. Go ahead…try it out.
A more formal, but powerful, approach focussed on the “People” resource is mentoring and, more recently, reverse-mentoring. Anyone who has not spent time creating a ‘wish list’ of people who they admire, and would like to learn from as a potential mentor, should do so. Before such a list starts to gather digital-dust on a computer, write your request and start asking. Be clear in your intention when connecting with potential mentors - state why you would like to learn from them, what you intend to do with such learnings and your longer term career aspirations which may align with the potential mentor’s own career path.
Now, if you're wearing your extra special brave-socks the day you reach out, you may want to give some thought to what benefit mentoring YOU may bring your senior colleague.
Your input as a junior lawyer, especially one from an under-represented demographic, could be the ticket a senior lawyer needs when it comes to turning the best of intentions into the best of practices and development.
Reverse mentoring is a powerful tool for creating a continual feedback loop which positively influences behaviours and mindsets at both ends of the seniority ladder.
Also, remember the power of unity. Africa Legal already works with leading student and young lawyer organisations across Africa including LAWSAN (Law Students Association of Nigeria - with 50,000 members) who are keenly focused on disrupting the status quo in relation to securing junior Nigerian lawyers the respect, and input, they deserve.
The steps you take now in influencing senior members of the profession and your own development will resonate throughout your career. If enough junior lawyers influence and challenge the status quo you will set a precedent and improve the careers of generations of lawyers to come.
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