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From the Law Society

30 June 2016 - By Kathryn Beck, New Zealand Law Society President

Retaining our junior lawyers

Josh Pemberton surveyed over 800 junior lawyers around the country and interviewed 40. The research is insightful and, in some aspects, concerning. However, I suspect that the findings won’t come as a surprise to many practitioners.

This issue of LawTalk takes an in-depth look at the research but I recommend that all of us who interface with junior lawyers take the time to read the full report; First Steps: The Experiences and Retention of New Zealand’s Junior Lawyers. It provides the profession with valuable insights into the experiences of New Zealand’s young lawyers and their views of those experiences.

The report provides both statistical data along with extensive commentary from the young lawyers themselves about various aspects of their life in the law – including:

  • how well they were prepared for legal practice;
  • early challenges in lawyering;
  • satisfaction;
  • work-life balance;
  • pay and progress; and
  • future plans.

There are lessons for all of us in the report – and not just those of us who are lawyers, but also non-lawyers in law firm management, the academic staff in law schools and the judiciary.

For lawyers who manage and work with less experienced practitioners, there are some very important lessons in how we interact with our young lawyers.

The research data shows that there is a real need to move away from some of the inappropriate and even harmful role models that we ourselves may have had when we were young lawyers. The mind-set of why should you expect to have it any easier than me? I survived and look at me now … or, You think that’s bad? It was way worse in my day … simply has to change. They are looking at us now and apparently they don’t always like what they see. It is not the great motivator we would like it to be.

We need to start viewing our role as one that has a greater focus on valuing the people who are the future of the profession including mentoring them to develop and learn as young professionals. That is not to say that we shouldn’t have high standards and expectations but it is how we communicate those things and work to achieve them with our junior lawyers that we need to review.

There are many aspects of the research that I could comment on, but one that I would particularly like to highlight is the importance of continuing to focus on how we can be Practising Well.

Stress emerges as one of the factors impacting significantly on lawyers in their first three years of practice. Seven out of 10 of the young lawyers surveyed found lawyering either “highly stressful” or “moderately stressful”. We need to do something about that and the first place to start is with ourselves.

Useful questions we could all (both junior and non junior) ask are: “How can we reduce stress levels in the profession? How can we better manage stress when it happens?” There are no easy answers, I do know that, but we need to do better or we will continue to lose good young practitioners from the law.

This report provides us all an opportunity – provided we do not become somewhat defensive – to enhance the quality of our practice and to enrich our collegiality through the way we encourage, mentor and interact with our young lawyers.

Last updated on the 27th June 2016