American law is a system based on past precedent. Intuitively, this implies our law system inherently favors experience and historical wisdom over untried or untested claims of a more contemporary nature.
But, for law firm managers, this tradition doesn’t have to translate into rigid business practice.
In fact, in mustn’t. Here’s why.
Across the Atlantic, in Europe, entrepreneurs are asking politicians not to pass over its young population (see FT’s “We all need an infusion of youthful vigour”). Over a quarter of young people are unemployed, disenfranchised, demoralized, but they represent a newness of human capital that is an asset to this economically struggling continent.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., policies are emerging that benefit American youth—new patent laws, tax breaks for small-businesses (usually young start-ups), and changes in healthcare services.
However, how can longstanding, tradition-based institutions, such as law, do the same? When so much of law is based on experience, trust built over time, and rigid hierarchy, what do law firms gain from empowering youth?
First, young people know technology.
The basic function of law may be the same, but its form is changing over time. From online filings, to e-discovery, to text-recognition software and animated PowerPoint presentations, clients demand the best from their lawyers.
The best requires innovative technology.
Your legal consultants and accountants may create your damages models, but can you ensure there are no mistakes? Today, the blame game is rampant. And lawyers are on the chopping block.
Just ask legal representatives for Hewlett Packard. The company is searching for somebody to sue for the overvaluation of one of its acquisitions.
Due diligence at law firms requires constant oversight of errors, from as small as spelling, to as big as gaps in research, to as back- (and bank-)breaking as calculation and equation errors in Excel.
“Outdated structures and cultures must adapt—those that resist are condemned to decay,” reminds Luke Johnson—entrepreneur—in an article for the Financial Times (FT).
Technology is at the heart of this positive change. And, young people are the tools to exploit this for your firm.
Second, young people are enthusiastic, passionate.
When it comes to new technology, geriatric partners may be suspicious of social media, but the younger generation of attorneys are enthusiastic.
Don’t understand the hype for platforms like Twitter? Never read a blog in your life?
Well, your young attorneys have. And, they can help your firm attract new clients with these modern tools.
Furthermore, young people are less jaded about the profession. They’re eager to build strong resumes of experience, which requires seizing every opportunity, when given. Young legal professionals not deterred when the bad guy wins, or the bad judge or judgment prevails.
Instead, young people are passionate about the law and where the field is taking their nascent career. This is exactly why empowering young lawyers is important in law—it ensures your young attorneys keep up high billable hours and care about high quality work product, in the long-term.
Third, young people are less restrained, free, and flexible.
Remember that time-consuming administrative issue you keep putting off? Or your child’s soccer game missed so that you could attend a meeting with HR?
Here’s an opportunity to delegate some of your business tasks. Young people have more time and are generally more flexible.
“The old should mentor the young, and take a risk by promoting them early,” Johnson compels businesses in his FT article.
By nature, the low-in-rank take on more work. But, this work doesn’t have to be tedious in nature. In fact, it’s time to entrust some important business strategy and operations decisions to young associates.
Incorporating 20- and 30-somethings in firm policy and decisionmaking is vital, reminds Johnson in his FT article.
“For example, a retailing friend has formed a ‘youth board’ for his business. This comprises six of his brightest up-and-comers, who meet monthly to debate strategy and operations,” writes Johnson.
“Their role is to challenge the statutory directors and address the concerns and opportunities of customers under 40.”
Law firms should also consider constructing a youth board composed of up-and-comers.
Firm partners should be given one nomination each, and the reign of these young attorneys (or legal professionals) should last at least a year.
A representative for this youth board can then report directly to managing partners on a regular basis. This board should be official, transparent, and meaningful. It should be perceived as an honor.
Give your youth board concrete powers and abilities to impact firm policy and strategy—don’t make it an honorary position.
You will be surprised how a contemporary perspective on technology, operations, and office culture can increase efficiency and productivity. A youth board will better understand the ground-level needs of staff and young associates, including what incentivizes them to stay late and longer at your firm.
“This is a dynamic and diverse time—tired networks and prejudices are history,” Johnson clearly states.
First-year, second-year, third-year, junior, senior, partner… these titles may still exist in law practice at the present, but their de facto importance is a thing of the past.
Show respect for the ideas and enthusiasm of your young professionals by creating opportunities for them to excel. Consider a youth board.
If you do, you may find that the inexperience of young people brings an optimal balance of fresh ideas and flexibility to create high returns on whatever you’ve invested in them.