Facebook, Small Law Firms, Social Media, Social Networking Websites, Technology

The Practice: Does Anyone Want a Mentor Anymore?

Over the past few weeks, the ugly truth about the generational gap between those who claim the moniker of “Gen Y lawyer” and, well, everyone else, has been raging through the blogosphere. While younger generations have always looked at their elders as “stupid,” and not worthy of listening to, it has never been as much a part of the legal profession as it is now. The Gen Y cheerleading squad of lawyers and their marketers believe there actually is a “revolution” in the legal profession and that if those who have come before don’t get with it and move their practices to the iPad, they (we) will go the way of the dinosaur.

They also think their elders want them to fail, are scared of them stealing clients, and only offer criticism for these reasons. I hate to break it to you kids, but I want you to succeed, and my clients aren’t hiring you. They’re not hiring your website or your Facebook Fan Page. Really, they’re not…

While many Gen Y lawyers see the use for mentors, there is little room for the thought from the worst of Gen Y that they could learn something over a cup of coffee or an intelligent email discourse with someone that’s been practicing law (and still practices) longer than four minutes.

And so they continue to wonder why the few clients that call them for legal representation after seeing them “on the first page of Google” don’t seem to have any money but “really like your website.” Still, they hang on to the claims of their mentors, sorry, marketers, that tell them they are “getting a lot of hits” and they hold out for the influx of great clients and great cases.

I believe their mentors, those they turn to for advice, those they respect, are the webmasters, the SEO hacks, the marketers –- not lawyers, not those who came before them. When your practice is a website, an iPad, some videos, and a price list, why would you want to listen to someone with a bad website, no iPad, no videos, who still markets “organically” – through doing good work and developing relationships with real people? Those you listen to are telling you “this is the future,” and anyone that disagrees just needs to “get onboard.” It’s all a sham, created by those looking to sell you a future.

Futures are built, they are earned, and they are created through hard work. I don’t care what year it is or what new technology or social media site is out, your future will never be something you can purchase from someone else.

But I know, you analogize what I’m saying to asking for advice about managing money from your dad (who retired debt-free) instead of reading a few blog posts by a bunch of broke people who will thank you for retweeting their article.

I have mentors. They’re mostly lawyers. One is in his 80’s. The others have been practicing twice as long as me. They’re never real nice to me, never that congratulatory. But they’re always there to tell me they think my theory of a case is the dumbest thing they’ve ever heard or to shut up. They give advice like “you’re dead wrong,” and “is that a real question,” and “are you %&* kidding me?” Hugs and tissues are not part of the relationship. It’s all about hearing about where they’ve been, where they’ve failed, and listening to how they became who they are. They know everything I’m doing, everything I’ve accomplished, but rarely say anything nice about any of it.

How did I meet them? In the courthouse.

How did they become my mentors?

Stalking.

I watched them work. I called them and said, “I’m a young lawyer in town and have a question.” I went to places they went outside the courthouse. Initially, lunch wasn’t attractive to them, but they returned calls and always said yes to “got a minute?” Of my five or so mentors, a couple of them routinely now call me for advice or thoughts, or to make sure I’m going to be at some event. Why? Because one, they’re too smart to think they know everything (and they want to know if I’ve really been listening to them), and two, they’re now a part of my life.

And I know, you have no courthouse to go to, you’re a lawyer that works from a computer not far from your kitchen or barista. So what? You’re telling me you don’t know good lawyers in your community (your offline community) who could be mentors to you? You can’t figure out where they hang out, where you can meet them, and how to attempt a relationship?

Or is this just not your thing? Is it beyond you to contemplate that someone other than your brander, your webmaster, or your online coach could help you become the lawyer you want to be?

Maybe you should think about what kind of lawyer you want to be — whether you want to be like the well-respected ones in your community, or the ones with the great online presence.

Maybe that answers your question.


Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at bt@tannebaumweiss.com.

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