The legal profession has a long history of supporting the development of young lawyers, whether it be through the articling program, the Law Practice Program, the Coach and Advisor Network or the many formal and informal mentoring and development opportunities offered by firms, government or industry, or legal associations (like the OBA!).
The pandemic reality of thousands of young law students and lawyers being onboarded virtually has accelerated the need to rethink how we train and develop skills. Structured programs are great for in-depth review of concepts and principles, but so much of our learning happens outside the classroom (or zoom screen). Our support of young lawyers coming into the profession is lacking in many ways:
- We often assume all lawyers arrive in the profession with the same skills toolkit (spoiler: we don’t)
- We focus on teaching skills as stand-alone competencies, missing the nuance and complexity of “how” these skills get applied (and competencies perceived) in the workplace
- We downplay the importance of networks and access for learning the “how” (and play up the individual effort)
The last number of years has brought greater awareness of the importance of skills development for legal success. Several groups have explored what these “extra” competencies might be (for example, the CBA Futures Initiative or competency models such as the “T-shaped lawyer” or the “Delta Model”). There is also, thankfully, greater awareness and momentum on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) initiatives, and recognition of the incredible benefits of including and promoting all perspectives, skills and strengths. However, teaching communication, interpersonal, writing, delegation, and leadership skills in silos without acknowledging the deficiencies and complexities of the world in which they are applied, is doing everyone a disservice. Competency in a particular skill and perception of competency are difficult to untangle.
We have a shared responsibility to acknowledge that our current systems and structures are barriers to many talented, high potential lawyers. And, we have a shared responsibility to, individually and collectively, equip lawyers, particularly junior lawyers, with a better understanding of the unwritten rules, norms and expectations in the workplace, as well as the lenses through which we judge, or others may be judged. The good news is this doesn’t need to happen solely in formal skills training. We can all weave EDI concepts into feedback, performance and development meetings, just-in-time learning, informal mentoring or interactions. Embedding EDI concepts into all our day-to-day interactions and conversations with juniors will help connect the skills concepts to their practical application.
Here are three key things we can all do to help support our colleagues in developing career-essential skills and reduce the bias by which we judge competency and capability.