Training for Young Lawyers, Diversity Are Part of the Evolving Practice of Law
By Patricia Gaul
American Bar Association
Aug. 6, 2011
TORONTO–So much of the discussion on the evolving legal landscape has revolved around technology and bottom line. An American Bar Association Annual Meeting program Aug. 6 with general counsels, centered on those issues, focusing on human capital.
How has the trajectory of a young lawyer’s career path changed given finite resources both in a firm and in the corporate environment? What are some key initiatives being undertaken on the diversity front, and how are corporate legal departments working with outside counsel to encourage diversity? Those were among the issues delved into during “General Counsel with International Issues: What’s on Their Minds?” sponsored by the Section of Litigation.
Young lawyers are willing to do almost anything given the crazy legal market in the United States, said Michelle Coleman Mayes, general counsel with Allstate. It’s a buyer’s market, she said, and among the shifts is the increasing use of contract lawyers. On the flip side, the legal jobs market in Canada is relatively good, said Terrie-Lynne Devonish, chief counsel for Aon Canada.
While firms more traditionally have been seen as the training grounds for young lawyers prior to any thought of their moving in-house, that is beginning to shift due to the economy. Mayes said that her company is currently hiring some graduates out of law school and is also working to promote the next generation of lawyers through how the company deals with outside counsel. “We’re interested in the pipeline,” Mayes said she tells law firms.
Riccardo Trecroce, vice president and general counsel of Magna International in Aurora, Ontario, said that he is not a big believer in bringing first-year associates in-house because of the lack of training resources. He does, however, seek to work with less-experienced associates from an outside firm on a short-term basis. “If they’re a good fit, we bring them on” for more permanent work with the company, Trecroce said. Panelists agreed that there are problems with training of young lawyers both in-house and in firms.
The Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, of which Mayes is a member, was announced in May 2009 by General Mills’ general counsel Rick Palmore. The council has four strategic initiatives: Benchmark, Development, Partnerships and Pipeline. One of Allstate’s key initiatives, said Mayes, centers around the them of “inclusive diversity.” As she describes it, “diversity is getting folks in the doors,” while inclusive diversity is “getting them to the table.” One of the reasons why minorities and women don’t stay with an employer is because they don’t have any real say or decision-making.
Devonish said there is an evolution occurring on the Canadian law scene. Firms are just beginning to understand the need for real diversity in practice, and in-house counsel can play a key role in assisting firms. Mayes spoke to a “diversity fatigue” factor or a cynicism whereby firms feel that they have made efforts but haven’t really seen a return.
Kenneth Thompson, senior vice president and global chief legal officer at LexisNexis Group, said that mandates will not work, and there are no quotas with his company. But if you have a diverse slate of candidates, the numbers of diverse lawyers are automatically going to go up.
A more diverse workplace will also evolve sooner if there is a “fierce conversation,” said Mayes. You can’t just have “feel-good conversation” and expect to get results, she said.
Richard Horwitz of Potter Anderson & Corroon in Wilmington, Del., moderated the program.