President's Message November/December 2017

Linda Rekas Sloan, Esq.

President, Rhode Island Bar Association

As young attorneys, you may believe you are not able to help others, that you lack the experience to be a positive influence on others. You may wonder how you can help others when you are still figuring things out yourself. But the fact is, you know more than you think.
Fill in the blank:    
All ______________________ are lazy, unprofessional, entitled, narcissistic and disloyal.
a.    Millennials
b.    Gen Z’s
c.    Gen X’s
d.    Young Lawyers
I have always had a soft spot for young lawyers. It seems like it was only yesterday that I was one (yes, I am delusional), so I think I can relate. Everyone has a favorite judge – the judge who goes out of their way to make you look good when your clients are in the courtroom, the judge who understands that you have a tough position to argue, and the judge who still remembers what it was like in private practice. Similarly, my favorite lawyers are the ones who remember what it was like when they were starting out and freely give advice, guidance and encouragement to younger lawyers. So, I try to always keep that at the forefront of my mind.

That is why I get really discouraged when I hear comments like, “There is nothing you can do to attract young lawyers to your committee/seminar/event. They are just not interested.” CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. By gosh, I am going to get young lawyers to attend our hallmark Annual Meeting in June. We tried giving out full-size Snickers candy bars. We had a smoothie station. We had ice cream and homemade waffle cones. We offered free admission (without CLE credit) for new admittees. So guess how many new admittees attended last year? Two. TWO! I felt like an utter and complete failure. WHY?!
WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?! Am I so old now that I can’t relate?! Am I like mom-jeans? I think I’m young and hip but am I really not? Should I have avocado toast, craft beer, lattes and PlayStation instead? 

What is different about young lawyers today? What’s the secret?!
It is that millennials, young lawyers… fill in the blank … are very similar to every other generation. They are just like us… except, younger. Universally, what young lawyers want is to be taught what they do not know so they can grow. They do not just want to be told what to do. They want to understand why. They want to improve the world around them by solving social problems. When they speak they want to be heard and valued. And they want guidance on how to be successful from people who have already walked the path. No big surprise.

What they do NOT want, is to hear:
“I had to do it the hard way so you should too!”
“You need to pay your dues and suffer years of long hours and unengaging grunt work, and your potential reward, if you survive, is future greater earning potential.”
Just because we did it that way does not mean it should continue. That type of thinking is a losing mentality.

On average, millennials leave their employers after only two years on the job. Just imagine how incredibly frustrating it must be to do dull work, feel unacknowledged, feel like you make no impact and work where you see no opportunity for growth. Sound familiar? If we are honest with ourselves, we have all felt some version of this at one point.

How can the Bar Association help?

As young attorneys, you may believe you are not able to help others, that you lack the experience to be a positive influence on others. You may wonder how you can help others when you are still figuring things out yourself. But the fact is, you know more than you think. You have been blessed with a career in law. There are millions of people in this world who, because of their financial and social circumstances, are barely getting by each day. Reflect on that, take it to heart, and when you come to terms with the fact that others helped shape you, I am asking you to pay what you have been given in this world forward. Consider, for example, volunteering to take one case through the Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer Program. You have the flexibility to choose a case in a practice area of interest to you.

One of our biggest needs is for attorneys to take family law and domestic violence cases. I know you are saying, “I don’t even know how to find the Family Court!” I have a solution for that too. In 2018, the Bar Association, in collaboration with Rhode Island Legal Services, will offer the second Partners Overcoming Domestic Violence comprehensive training and mentoring program. It is an intensive clinic, complete with mock hearings at the Family Court that will give you the resources and experience to handle a family law case. You will even walk away with your own mentor, someone you can call on for advice, guidance and encouragement, someone who remembers what it was like when they were starting out.

So often, we get all worked up trying to figure out how to engage minorities, women, the older, the younger and so on. As it turns out, human beings are pretty much alike. People want to be part of a winning organization they can be proud of. They want to do a good job, be treated fairly, and work at something that is fulfilling. They want to feel like partners in the company they work for – part of the team and not just hired hands. That is what young lawyers want too. When you engage their hearts and minds as well as their hands, young lawyers will grow, learn, contribute more, and be worth more.  Remarkably simple.

So, I am letting go of my goal of getting young lawyers to the Annual Meeting. Instead, I offer you the opportunity to make a difference - the opportunity to change one person’s life by taking a case from our Volunteer Lawyer Program. I offer you the training and guidance necessary to handle not only that case but future cases in your career. That one case might just change your life too. You will grow, learn, contribute, and become more valuable as an attorney. It is the right thing to do in our learned profession, and I promise you it will be rewarding. 

Did I mention we have fresh waffle cones at the Annual Meeting?