Old-Fashioned Mentoring for a New Generation of Lawyers

by Robert J. McWhirter

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The problem was clear: Law firms were no longer hiring large classes of associates, and clients, always seeking better value for cost, were no longer paying to train baby lawyers. The profession has been changing from under us. The good old ways of bridging law school and practice were not what they used to be. Many a new grad has hung up a shingle in an ever more complex world without guidance and mentors.

The answer was to create a law firm to bridge the gap between law school and lawyering.

This was the impetus behind the ASU Alumni Law Group, where associates come first. In every other law firm, it’s the other way around. The firm’s associates — new lawyers who have just passed the bar — commit to stay two to three years. They work on a variety of legal issues and of areas of the law. Think of the young doctors on “Grey’s Anatomy,” but these are lawyers!

On a given day, an associate may run to court on a criminal matter, file a restraining order in a domestic violence case, attend a meeting involving civil litigation, or write a will — all of this under the direct supervision of senior lawyers who have specialized in their practice areas. The supervising attorneys are crucial. They not only provide the cases for the work, but are dedicated mentors.

This model also includes a training director supervising the associates’ continuing legal education, in not just practice areas but how to live and succeed in the profession. Associates leave with a bigger tool box for the profession, not to mention contacts and a jump start with professional relationships.

Clients’ needs, of course, must be the primary consideration, and this structure serves them well. They get all the experience of a seasoned lawyer and all the energy of a new one.

Robert J. McWhirter is a  supervising criminal attorney at the ASU Alumni Law Group, a certified specialist in criminal law, and author of Bills, Quills, and Stills: An Annotated, Illustrated, and Illuminated History of the Bill of Rights.

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