Now is the time for law firms to engage young lawyers affected by COVID disruption

The long-term impacts of the pandemic could be the most damaging to new lawyers

Finishing law school and entering the legal profession has never been easy. But this year, law students and young lawyers are facing unprecedented challenges. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been disruptive to the entire legal profession, the long-term impacts could be the most damaging to new lawyers.

In this our last issue of 2020, we spoke with law deans about how they are managing to deliver legal education during a pandemic. Law students face a new reality as they deal with a shift to full or partial online learning.

Despite the challenges, law schools are innovating with virtual classrooms and safe in-person instruction. Like the justice system, educators are discovering that things they would normally have thought needed to be done in person — such as mock trials — can be done effectively online.

Law firms are facing similar challenges in keeping younger lawyers engaged. As we found in our best legal workplaces survey, employers have been forced to be more flexible with work arrangements and firms are focusing much more on output than on old-fashioned input measurements of productivity such as “face time.” In other words, the “old way” of doing things is no longer going to work.

While the risk of losing talent existed before the pandemic, with young lawyers isolated and dealing with the daily uncertainty, law firms must step up their game.

Yet our research indicates that young lawyers rated their law firm lower on respect and trust than older lawyers. This gets to the nub of the problem for young lawyers and law students in the age of COVID. Creating a culture where you trust and respect your mentors is difficult when you never see them in person.

“The challenging part is to build up community experience under difficult circumstances,” says Donna Young, dean at Ryerson’s law school. “It’s heartbreaking that I could pass by one of my students on the street and wouldn’t know it.”

In adversity, though, comes opportunity. For the educators and law firms that persist and take every opportunity they can to engage the new generation, the payoff will be a loyalty that cannot be bought. The future of our profession depends on it.

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