It has often been noted that law schools provide little preparation for the nitty gritty of real-life practice. Over the years, I have met individually at LCL with so many new lawyers who are losing sleep and feeling tied up in knots as they do their best to handle their work competently.
New lawyers working in large law firms, though often well compensated, speak of unrelenting pressure to produce, for partners who in many cases are much more forthcoming with criticism than with direction or encouragement, in a highly competitive environment. Novice attorneys in legal aid settings, while able to feel good about helping impoverished and disempowered clients, may find themselves overwhelmed by the need to grapple with many different kinds of cases (simultaneously, and providing supervision may become a secondary concern in an agency already straining to meet the needs of its clientele. And lawyers fending for themselves in solo practice have the additional pressure to market themselves and make enough money to get by even as they attempt to quickly acquire the necessary practical knowledge.
New attorneys working in all these settings often report feeling flooded, exhausted, and anxious. They typically wrestle with a strong and perhaps inevitable sense of “faking it,” needing to present a confident façade while asking themselves, “What the heck am I supposed to do now?” Many question whether they have chosen the wrong profession. While various bar associations offer “mentoring” programs, actually accessing assistance seems to be difficult. The predicament is compounded by the fact that they may have little time to seek or make use of helpful resources, that they work in a competitive world, and that it seems counterproductive to show vulnerability or uncertainty in the professional sphere.
I have been thinking about offering a support group (either in person here at our Boston office or online) for new lawyers coping with these pressures. Such a group would be confidential, with no need to put on a front and the opportunity to speak in a genuine way. If nothing else, it could decrease the sense of being alone with these stresses; optimally, the participants could not only provide support but potentially offer partial solutions to one another as they, like so many before them, make their way through a trying life transition. The very good question that some of my colleagues have raised, though, is whether new lawyers can possibly carve out the time when they already feel like there are too few hours in the day to keep up. If you even think there is a possibility you would like and could manage this kind of discussion/support group, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Maybe you are a formerly new attorney who has constructive suggestions for those just entering the field. Really, if I get a bunch of stories about ways people have found to get through the first few years, I would love to put these ideas into an article to distribute to new lawyers. Again, if you have any thoughts to share, please email me (email@example.com). (If anyone feels the need to be anonymous, you can submit an anonymous email by using the “anonymous question” link on our website’s “Q&A” page. Either way, I look forward to hearing from you.
Jeff Fortgang, Ph.D.