Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Voice of Inexperience – Thank you from the Young Lawyers Division

The following posting is made with permission from the State Bar of Wisconsin who originally printed it as an article with the same name included in the Wisconsin Lawyer’s Voice of Experience, Vol. 14 No. 1, January 2016:  

I was reminded recently about what I told my great-uncle Gust while taking a sauna with him when I was about 5 years old.  He was complaining about aches and pains, and saying he was old.  I told him, “Guzzie, you were old the day I was born.”  All the guys in the sauna, including my uncle, had a good laugh.

This is my last year in the Young Lawyers Division (the “YLD”).  To be a “young lawyer” you have to be in your first five years of practice or under the age of 36.  I graduated from law school in 2005, and I am now 35 years old.  You may have heard about the problems facing young lawyers today, and you should care about them for the same reasons that I do.  You owe it to those that have helped you and to your profession as a whole. 

If you’re in the Seniors Lawyers Division (the “SLD”), then you have paid your dues in more ways than one.  You have to pay to join the division, and you have to be at least 60 years old.  When it comes to the problems facing young lawyers you might think, “I’ll leave this issue for experienced but younger lawyers.”  However, they might be the saying the same thing.  After all, you were old the day I became a lawyer.  I kid, I kid.  All I mean to say, as I tell my partners nearing retirement, we still need you.

Your division has already done a lot for mine.  The leadership of your division writes a recurring column in the YLD’s newsletter called, “The Voice of Experience.”  The SLD provides scholarships and financial support for young lawyers to attend the Leadership Summit each year.  I know at least one of our current board members got her start through that program.  And the SLD continually asks the YLD for ways it can help.  But by this article I hope to appeal to the membership the SLD and encourage them to buy a young lawyer lunch, a drink, or a cup of coffee, to take the time to get to know a young lawyer even if they seem resistant at first. 

Young lawyers may be resistant to talking about their struggle because they are told to “fake it until you make it.”  I understand where they are coming from because I only recently started to feel comfortable with my career, my long-term ability to repay my student loans, and my decision to become a lawyer.  Don’t get me wrong. I love being a lawyer and I always have.  However, for a long time my decision to attend law school felt like a huge financial mistake.

When I graduated in 2005 my monthly student loan obligation was over $1,000.00 per month.  My pay was $15 per hour with overtime discouraged.  That means after paying my loans, I might have $1,000 per month to live on.  About five years after I graduated, I looked at the annual tuition at George Mason where I attended law school.  In 2005 it was about around $21,000 per year and by 2010 it was $39,500 per year.  The job market got worse over that time and some firms were still only paying $30,000 per year ($15 per hour).  However, the employed, at any wage, were then and still are the lucky ones. 

I was on the Challenges Facing New Lawyers Committee, I had friends on the task force before that and on the new implementation committee, and I have been involved in young lawyer issues for a few years.  Thoughts of suicide are not uncommon for struggling young attorneys.  I remember thinking that suicide would not help me because my mother co-signed for my loans.  Thank God for that, but nobody should be having those kinds of thoughts. 

Obviously, you cannot fix these problems.  However, you can help young lawyers in their careers.  You’ve been a lawyer much longer than them and have learned a few things a long the way.  Whether it’s giving practice advice, helping them understand the other side of the table when it comes to negotiating employment, or something else, you can help them. You can make the challenging times our new colleagues face a little less challenging and a little more cordial.  Thank you for listening.  

© November 2015 Brandon J. Evans