Monday, December 11, 2006

Letting Down The Next Generation: Why Today's New Attorneys Don't Know How To Draft A Contract

Are today's firms letting down the next generation of attorneys? After all, lawyers are amongst the most highly educated professionals in the country, and thousands of the very best of them are hand selected by big firms to endure years of document review and thousands of billable hours mired in discovery hell. More interesting to me than the pure lack of intellectual challenge provided to these attorneys is the fact that mentoring is at all time lows. At the very same time firms are spending millions of dollars on knowledge management systems that allow the young attorneys to get contract templates of every variety from their databases believing they really are getting "smarter". So, with practically no mentoring and access only to templates, we are faced with a generation of attorneys who lack the skills to draft an agreement! Why? Have you ever heard the saying "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for the rest of his life?" Of course you have. Here, have another fish. . . and enjoy your last few bites because the senior attorneys today are more likely to die before they teach how to feed yourself. They are too busy filling their own buckets!

The senior attorneys attorneys at big firms today are NOT passing their knowledge down to the young attorneys. You see, contracts that were written by other attorneys do not constitute knowledge transfer just because they are in a database that is accessible to them. Contracts do not contain knowledge itself, they contain the product of one's knowledge. A young attorney does not simply look at a contract and innately understand why a clause is phrased a particular way and how case law has shaped the language over the years. The key to being a successful practitioner is having the knowledge itself, not simply the product of knowledge, to produce good legal work product. How can they fix the problem? Well if they cared enough they would get their senior attorneys to turn their tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge by documenting and communicating WHY they do what they do (in addition to doing it) or they would train and mentor like they did in the "olden" days. Of course, this would take significant time away from their billable hours and thus their profitability. If you are a young attorney at a big firm, do you really think that the partners are going to do that for you? (or are you just tired of eating fish?) I believe that the younger generation needs to knock on the partnership door and demand a fishing rod . . . . because you know they are not going to teach you to feed yourself unless you insist, and if you don't . . . you will soon realize that our generation got ripped off by the greedy partnerships that send "fish dinners" to your office every night while you bill your 15th hour of work . . . . . for the 6th day in a row. Don't wait until you have a free "billlable hour" to think about it . . . they will surely make sure you have none to waste.

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