Times have changed since I was a young lawyer honing my skills. Jobs in law firms, especially large law, for new law grads are not nearly as plentiful as when I graduated 30 years go.

The result is many new grads getting out and doing whatever they can. I’ve heard of many waiting tables and even working at Walmart at night to make ends meet while at the same hanging their shingle out during the day to get some legal work.

Not only can that be demoralizing to a recent grad, but it can be dangerous for the clients they do get.

Where does a recent law grad learn how to practice law in a real and meaningful way — in a way that’s providing effective legal representation? Not in law school. Not even via internships during law school.

In the old days (geez, am I really 55?), we learned how to be a lawyer by joining a good law firm. It could be large or small firm. We asked questions of our mentors — whether we called a partner a mentor or not.

We got feedback on transactional docs we drafted and briefs and pleadings we crafted. We sat in on depositions and trials, hopefully getting thrown a bone by being allowed to take a witness while our mentor sat at counsel table in court or along side us in a conference room.

We had a wealth of forms, guides, and secondary authority at our disposal. Our law firm libraries were filled with books by publishers long ago gobbled up by LexisNexis and Thomson-West. If we couldn’t find it in a book, go ask one of the partners’ secretaries — they were the ones doing more legal practice work than we were anyway.

We got introduced to local business people, civic groups, and members of the local bar. We had a network we could reach out to.

Who didn’t ask more senior lawyers questions about how to do this or that while waiting for your motion hearing at the courthouse? Heck, I asked the clerk of courts and her team lots of questions — they had the good stuff. Bailiff’s knew the inside ropes at the courthouse too. And you could always catch judges in their chambers if you headed over to the courthouse before 8:30.

At the firms that appreciated us, or once we made a few bucks, we had access to great CLE programs at leading bar and state/national legal associations.

Think a recent grad working at Walmart has the budget to pay high high-end CLE registration fees and a travel budget for air and hotel to get the good info and network with tier one lawyers?

Social media, including blogging, is an odd duck for recent bar admittees. The young lawyers who participate in blogging and other social media get kicked in the teeth by many senior lawyers for trying to get out and have a reputation before they know how to practice law.

The young lawyers who blog, network on LinkedIn, and who use Twitter to connect are accused of marketing themselves to the public’s peril.

I’m not sure we should blame a recent grad who cannot get a job in law firm from reaching out to connect with more senior lawyers.

  • Do law firms who don’t hire lawyers bring lawyers in to mentor them? Nope.
  • Do state bars and national legal associations give free CLE access and fly kids to conferences a thousand miles away? I am not aware of any that do.
  • Does LexisNexis and Thomson West give unlimited access to all secondary resources and forms to part-time lawyers/part-time restaurant servers? Call ’em and ask.

Take a step back.

  • What’s so bad about young lawyers reading blogs by senior lawyers and law professors around the country and engaging the senior lawyers via posts on the young lawyer’s blog?
  • What’s so bad about having these senior lawyers who are blogging then engaging the younger lawyers who are blogging? Maybe they connect on LinkedIn and meet in person? Maybe the young lawyer starts to call and email the senior lawyers they met blogging with questions/concerns on matters they are working on? I always helped younger lawyers when I practiced, whether in my firm or not, and the more senior lawyers helped me even after I had practiced for the better part of 20 years.
  • What’s so bad about a young lawyer sharing on Twitter the news and info relating to a niche that the young lawyer sees in their RSS reader and on Twitter? Maybe a few senior lawyers begin to follow them which results in them exchanging emails, connecting on LinkedIn, talking on the phone, and meeting in person? Maybe a mentorship relationship ensues?

Recent law grads who aren’t afraid of connecting with senior lawyers, meeting people, and asking questions to seek guidance and counsel should be lauded. They are getting mentorship –it’s just not the way we did it. I am not sure for many law grads they have the same opportunity — though many don’t take the initiative needed to get the skills they need.

Mind you I am not talking about young law bloggers pushing crap to get high search engine performance. I’m not including gaming Google as a skill you need to provide effective representation.

For those lawyers, blogging is putting a gun in a child’s hand. Clients who find those lawyers and don’t see through the charade may be in jeopardy.

I am also not talking about lawyers that go out and get lots of Twitter followers or LinkedIn connections as a means of demonstrating their influence.

We had clowns like that who practiced law in my town long before anyone dreamed of the Internet and social media. They just put on show to try to impress people in other ways. They failed.

What do you guys think? Can blogging and other social media fill a little of the mentoring gap for young lawyers?