With chronic unemployment and soaring student loan debt, there is an extraordinary need for mentoring among young lawyers, and the KCBA and its divisions and members have stepped up to meet these pressing problems to ensure that those newest to the profession do not slip away.
From the graduating class of 2008 forward, the YLD has seen up close the lengths young lawyers will go to secure employment or anything approaching the practice of law to fill out their resumes. Young lawyers are competing with each other in some cases for unpaid internships or pro bono opportunities, and many new graduates have headed straight from the classroom into solo practice, driven more by the inability to find work at a firm or agency than by some entrepreneurial zeal to strike out on their own.
For these young lawyers, the YLD has put on programs regarding the perks and pitfalls of being a solo practitioner, playing to a packed house of attendees whose bar numbers are generally 40,000 and higher. YLD board members speak every day with young lawyers who are thriving in solo practice and even generating work for other young lawyers, but also with many who struggle to collect enough fees in a month just to make their student loan payments.
In addition to programs for those contemplating opening their own firms, the YLD holds free monthly lunchtime CLEs on a variety of toolbox topics aimed at those new to practice, free monthly happy hours, and service events where members can meet the community and serve as ambassadors for the KCBA. Each of these YLD benefits has a dual purpose: education or service on the one hand, and networking on the other. The overriding motivation is that young lawyers will weather the current shift in the profession and even prosper by meeting, networking with and serving alongside other lawyers of every vintage - in the classroom, the courtroom and the community.
Apart from the programming and networking opportunities the YLD provides, a critical component of young lawyer success is mentoring. Though perhaps the best mentoring relationships develop organically, many young lawyers struggling to find their way in the profession are at a loss on where to find good mentors.
Thus, the YLD recently partnered with Nancy Williams and the seasoned practitioners of KCBA's BOLD group to start a structured mentoring program. On January 30, the YLD and BOLD held a kickoff lunch with several mentor pairings, each of whom have committed to meeting at least six times in the coming year. The pairings were provided with program guides and topics to help them along the way, providing just enough structure to give the mentor-mentee relationships a boost, while giving the seasoned and not-so-seasoned lawyers space to learn from one another.
The program is based in part on a mentoring curriculum created by the Washington Leadership Institute, which incorporates several competencies relevant to young lawyers. The KCBA will check in on the pairings throughout the year and serve as a resource. Based on the results of this pilot year, the KCBA hopes to expand the program and draw mentors from across the membership.
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