Vivene meets Jordan Furlong and Omar Ha-Redeye to look at how the legal profession is changing due to societal, economic and technology forces and what this means for lawyers in Canada.
Conversations With The President: The state of the profession, Ep 2:
Vivene meets Jordan Furlong and Omar Ha-Redeye to look at how the legal profession is changing due to societal, economic and technology forces and what this means for lawyers in Canada.
In this inaugural episode, Vivene talks about how the legal marketplace changed after the economic crash of 2008, the lawyer development system, the challenges of navigating the legal space as a young lawyer, and more!
Jordan Furlong is the former senior editor of CBA National Magazine, an author, consultant and a leading analyst of the global legal market at his company Law 21.
Omar Ha-Redeye was a past Young Lawyer Chair in the Ontario Branch. He has held a variety of leadership positions in CBA National.
Visit www.cba.org/dispatches to learn more about CBA President and her goals.
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After the crash
Introduction: This is The Every Lawyer presented by the Canadian Bar Association.
Vivene Salmon: Hello, welcome to Conversations with the President. I’m CBA president Vivene Salmon. I was called to the bar in 2010, two years after the bottom fell out of the global economy. The 2008 recession hit hard and left in its wake widespread societal change and technological disruption. A lot of companies have had to rethink the way they do business and law firms are no exception. With this podcast series, I hope to look at how the legal profession is changing due to societal, economic and technological forces and what this means for lawyers in Canada by sparking an intergenerational dialogue.
Jordan Furlong was called to the bar nearly a quarter of a century ago, but quickly learned he’d rather write or talk about the law than practice it. He’s a former senior editor of CBA National Magazine and author, consultant and a leading analyst of the global legal market at his company, Law21.
Welcome to the podcast Jordan.
Jordan Furlong: Thank you very much Vivene, it’s great to be here.
Vivene Salmon: So when the global economy collapsed in 2008 it wasn’t just financial and housing markets that were affected; how did the legal marketplace change?
Jordan Furlong: Oh my gosh; the legal marketplace changed I think in ways that for many of us who were inside the market at that time don’t maybe fully appreciate today, right? Because one of the things about being in a large scale change such as we are experiencing is that you’re kind of their day-to-day and sometimes you kind of overlook just how much has shifted and how much the landscape and environment is different from where it was. So, from our perspective we might say “Oh well there’s been some change and there’s been some adjustments” and so forth. But if you were to take a lawyer from – whatever – 2005 and pop them in a time machine and bring them forward and say “This is the profession in the market 15 years later or whatever” you might say “Okay, it is significantly different than I was expecting.” It’s no longer the same kind of linear trajectory that we expected beforehand. it has been up and down and all over the place. And I think that is not just the reason history of the profession of the legal market, I think that’s what we’ve come to expect for at least several years yet to come.
Vivene Salmon: So the recession and technological change were kind of a double whammy; what is it about technology that makes a current professional environment different than the one law grads faced even 10 years ago?
Jordan Furlong: Well you know, there are so many different aspects of technology we could talk about and by giving you the answer I’m about to give you, I don’t mean to discount or to neglect all the other aspects. And one of those, just as a very brief sidebar, the extent to which technology has allowed the sharing of information from clients and former clients so that there’s a much more informed and, I think, empowered client base out there than there used to be. I don’t want to ignore that but I do want to focus on, I think, the most significant way in which technology has affected our lives as lawyers and the lives of clients as well, is technology’s ability to rapidly accelerate the performance of legal tasks.
And I think again, that’s something that if you were around in 2005 or 2000 or the ‘90s or what have you, if you were to say to that person in the space of a decade maybe you’ll get to the point where machines or software can carry out tasks that previously only lawyers could do. In legal research, in due diligence, in contract drafting and management and analysis, in the answering of straightforward legal compliance regulatory questions; all of these things which were the backbone of associate hours for many years in firms across the country. And really when we get down to it, kind of the base of the law firm profit pyramid, they’re all being siphoned off into new ways of performing the task with technology and into new kinds of providers because it is not, for the most part, law firms that have adopted this technology. it is new providers, new players in the market.
So that’s kind of a knock-on effect; not only has technology allowed legal work to be done differently, much faster, far less expensively and quite frankly, better in many cases than it was before, but it has enabled the rise of a whole bunch of new platforms and providers that come in and say “Okay, law firms don’t want to use this technology, law firms don’t want to use this approach to project management, we’ll do it and we’ll do it really well.”
Vivene Salmon: So in that way it feels like the legal profession has lost a little bit of control over, I would even say, how to train young lawyers. So how do young lawyers get trained?
Jordan Furlong: You talk about a perfect storm, right, because even if we didn’t have enough challenge with the technology and the new provider and so forth, the whole approach to how lawyers are trained and developed is under tremendous strain. And again, this is a rabbit hole down which we could go very deep; I don’t want to take us too far off course. But with the siphoning off of what you would traditionally have called associate work from law firms, the inevitable result of this, I think, is that law firms will simply hire fewer associates, right? Because if the kind of work associates used to do is not being given to law firms, law firms are going to say “Why are we hiring these vast grazing herds of associates around the firm?”
So I think the knock-on impact of that is that whereas law firms – and especially the larger ones, although obviously not exclusively – whereas law firms have traditionally been the bridge into practice for new lawyers. You come out of law school – and we won’t rehash all the conversations about how law school doesn’t prepare you for practice. We know it doesn’t, that’s not what they’re set up to do, but when we come into practice we sort of assume, as a profession, we assume that there are law firms or private sector providers of legal services that will be more than happy, not just to train us, not just to show us the ropes, but to pay us for the process of doing that. And that, I think, is starting to fall away as well.
Law firms are coming to the point of saying “We no longer can afford this kind of a system.” Now again, a very brief sidebar here; it’s not that they actually can’t afford it, law firms can afford to do any number of things very differently than they do but within the structure, the culture, the profit margins at law firms are accustomed to, they look at this and they say “There is no real value proposition here for us to train new lawyers.” And that again, is significant. I think in a lot of ways; the most significant challenge we’re facing as a profession.
Vivene Salmon: So that is part of an article that I think you wrote this summer called The Lawyer Development System. Maybe you could expand a little bit more on what you mean by lawyer development system and why is it in trouble.
Jordan Furlong: Well – and thank you for mentioning that because the concept or the model around which you talk about lawyer development for me is based on this idea that our traditional notion or our traditional assumption about, you know, learning to be a lawyer is that you apply to law school, you get accepted, you spend three years in law school, you graduate, you have an articling position and then you are a lawyer; ta-da. And in my personal experience and that of countless lawyers that I have spoken to about this, that is not the realty at all. You are unleashed into the world, into the legal market, four years, maybe four and half years after your first day of law school and you are told you can now serve clients. You can now do all of these things.
And we talk about impostor syndrome and anybody out there who is a young lawyer or a new lawyer, you’ve probably heard of this and if you haven’t, you’re almost certainly have it because we all do. This sense of “What am I doing here? I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not qualified to do any of these things.” And I think that’s a great disservice that we do – we’re speaking now as a profession – to ourselves and to our own people. So years ago I wrote a – this is like 10+ years ago – I wrote an article called the Seven Year Law Degree and I said it takes a minimum seven years from the point of first day of law school to seven years down the road before you start to feel like a confident, competent lawyer.
And in subsequent conversations I’ve had with lawyers they said “You know what, that number is often closer to 10, sometimes it’s as high as 15” you know. And so we shortchange ourselves, we credential way too early, we licence way too early and we kind of wander off and say “Okay, you’re fine now.” And that’s simply not the case. That’s what I mean by Lawyer Development System. Our lawyer development system has been very slipshod, has been very ragtag and it does not befit our profession and it is simply not acceptable for clients, corporate consumer individual, whatever the case might be, they have a right to something better.
Vivene Salmon: So how do we then rework the system? Because we’ve identified the issue and the problem, but how do we go forward and how do we give, in a way that I think, young lawyers deserve and, dare I say, are entitled to?
Jordan Furlong:And you can say it and thank you for using that word because I think that the current generation of lawyers and the ones to come need to take back the word entitlement which has been flung at them by Boomers and by a few of us Gen Xs – I’m sorry about that. I always just laugh; whenever a Boomer calls someone else entitled, I get a kick out of that.
Vivene Salmon: The irony.
Jordan Furlong:Yeah, exactly. Let’s talk about that for a bit. But it’s a challenge and it’s an opportunity I think both for us to look at how we can rethink, reinvent our lawyer develop system or our lawyer licensing system. And I think it starts with this realization it takes a number of years before you’re a pretty good – you’re at least a decent lawyer. Just like it takes a number of years before you’re a decent doctor or a decent nurse or a decent engineer. So starting from that premise and we look at “Alright, what are the skills and aptitudes and talents and characteristics that we think a competent lawyer should display” right? And that’s a conversation we can have all day and lots of candidates for that. Luckily for us the Federation of Law Societies of Canada as well as the Solicitors Regulation Authority in the UK have both studied this matter.
They both come out with detailed reports saying “Here is a list of what we think are initial competence requirements for lawyers.” And some of these are skills; you should be able to do A,B and C and D as a lawyer in certain different areas but some of them are also personal characteristics, talents and so forth. Creativity, collaboration, resilience. Some of them are different kinds of skills; financial literacy and active listening skills. All these different things. Empathy would be wonderful to have.
So then the second step is you say “Alright, this is what we need. This is what we have to – if you have these things, now we feel comfortable. Now we feel like we can actually unleash you on the world” okay? Third question then becomes “Okay, where do lawyers get these skills and this experience, these skills, this knowledge and so forth?” I think it’s fair to say that we might as well not bother asking most law schools to do this and again, this is not because I’m trying to slander them. What they do is what they were set up to do and they do that very well. I just think that what they were set up to do isn’t very helpful to us anymore.
So if I – and luckily I don’t – ran the legal regulation system in this country, I would essentially say ‘Alright, these are the skills and the capabilities and experience that we need. If anybody out there can create a program or a system or an operation funded however you like, that will provide new lawyers with this information, with these receivables, we will licence you. We will regulate you, we will funnel people towards you in saying ‘this is where you go to become a great lawyer.’” Could that include a law school? Sure. Anything’s possible, right? But more likely I think this will probably again, be a new provider, a new platform, to come into the market and say “Alright, now we have a clearer sense of what’s needed. Law schools are doing a wonderful job of preparing students for practice in the early 20th century. However, we are here to do something that’s a lot more advanced and a lot more updated.” That is how I would go about tackling this extremely challenging issue.
Vivene Salmon: So I want to take that one step further and maybe bring in corporate counsel. What do you see as a role corporate counsel can make in bringing about this change in terms of how we train young lawyers – or not just young lawyers but new lawyers – better for the future?
Jordan Furlong: There’s a whole bunch of different aspects there which are worth tackling. One of them is that for a corporate counsel – and for now I’m going to say corporate counsel as including public sector if I may just for the purposes of this discussion.
Vivene Salmon: Okay.
Jordan Furlong: And when you do that you kind of realize at a certain point we are no longer talking about exceptions to the rule, right? Again, we have a longstanding assumption that the normal lawyer, the default lawyer, the standard lawyer is in private practice. Either in a big firm, small firm, solo; it doesn’t matter but you’re in private practice. And if you’re in-house, whether you’re public sector whatever, well you’re an exception, right? You know, you’re not one of us. And, of course, as I’m sure you all know because you have probably experienced this, this longstanding sense when the private bar “Oh yeah, well you’re in-house, you know, so that’s nice for you” you know. “You couldn’t cut it out here in the real world so you just go off inside” right?
And this is a very longstanding bias and that’s got to go as well. And part of it is this realization that the size of, if you will, the single client bar, the public sector corporate counsel and many other lawyers like this, this is a group that is starting to rival, in size, the private bar itself. And I think a day could come – I don’t think it will necessarily but it could come – where there really are two equal but separate bars and deserve the same kind of respect and so forth. So it’s a very important question you’re raising which is for this emerging powerhouse within the legal profession, how do we treat the training and development of lawyers here?
Okay, first thing to realize is that one significant difference, of course, between in-house and external is that in-house, you’re part of a company part of a department, what have you, and this is nowhere close to their core function, right? And on the list of a hundred things the company’s doing, training new lawyers is like number 500 on the list, right? So this is nowhere close to something they should be doing. So we have to appreciate the fact that there’s only so much that a corporation or a public sector department can and should be expected to do. I do think however that this part of the bar makes up for that challenge with the fact that exposure to this side of practice, if you will, to the client’s side, to the demands side, is just so valuable. This is something that many lawyers are – you spend decades in some cases, before you ever actually see the world from the client perspective.
There are lawyers out there who have gone through their whole careers without once having to think about “I wonder what it’s like to get served by me, I wonder what it’s like to hire a lawyer and deal with” right?
Vivene Salmon: It’s almost like people need to start as corporate lawyers in-house and then go to private practice.
Jordan Furlong: And that’s a brilliant idea quite frankly, right, because that is exactly the kind of role reversal, the kind of default switch I think we need to talk about. What if we said that “You don’t get to go out and in the real world, you know, unleashed until you have actually worked as and with a buyer of legal services, a consumer of legal services.” And again, it doesn’t got to be corporation or public sector department, it could be a community organization, it could be a non-profit, it could be whatever, like municipal government, something like that. So again, rethinking what do we mean by training and development? What are we actually trying to train? And if you were to argue, and I will happily make this argument, that maybe the single most important thing a lawyer needs is empathy for the client.
I don’t mean like sympathy and affection necessarily though it’s always nice, but understanding the end goal or the end user or the outcome that’s needed. And you could argue that is the foundational good lawyer skill; where better to learn that than on the client side.
Vivene Salmon: Absolutely. So last summer some pundits were heralding the return of big law, the return of good prerecession times for law firms. As we hear rumblings of another recession, has the profession learned anything from the last decade?
Jordan Furlong:Oh my gosh no. Not remotely. I’m sorry, that’s a little flip. The profession has learned a few lessons. I think they’ve probably forgotten those lessons by now and will continue to do so. Because we’re kind of doomed in a way to repeat the mistakes of the past and again, a whole lot of discussion. But I think that the next recession is not just likely, it’s inevitable, and the longer we go between recessions the more severe and hard hitting the next recession is going to be. Now, you can make an argument – and I suspect that there’s an argument very easily made – that it’s not as if we’re flying high right now. It’s not as if this is a fabulous economy, right? And again, if you’re a young lawyer, if you’re young at all, you know what this is like. You know how hard it is to get steady work of any kind. If you’re a shareholder, if you’re a stock market player, yeah you’re laughing, right? But the other 95% of us, we’re all struggling to get along. Okay.
But a recession, which is of course a much more macro event is going to come, it is going to hit law firms hard and the best way I – especially the larger firms – the best way I can describe that is not my idea, it’s somebody else’s and if I was clever I would’ve remembered who this was during the podcast and I can’t. But this person pointed out – when the recession hit 2008, law firms threw any number of other people over the side. They fired secretaries and they fired associates and the fired clerks and they cut so many people. And as a result they became much more lean operations – and they did invest in some technology and it became actually more profitable and they were like “Awesome. Wow, we should do this all the time.”
The problem is that when the next recession comes and demand drops down like the ocean levels after an earthquake and before a tsunami, they’re not going to have anything left to cut. We’re past the non-core parts of law firms and I think at that point law firms are going to be forced to confront the thing I think they’re probably most afraid of realizing is that the business model itself, the fundamental substructure of law firms, the way in which they make money, isn’t really going to work anymore. It worked wonderfully in the past and there’s all these wonderful law firms in big office towers – and again, not just big law but law firms of all kinds – that are so successful and so well regarded and that’s because they were made for their time and they were perfect for their time.
Well, their time is passing away rapidly and we’re going to have to find something new to – not just even to replace them but to improve upon them That’s the thing I want us to kind of hope. We should not be gearing all of our efforts to say “How do we make law schools better? How do we make law firms better? How do we make legal regulation better?” I think what we need to do is step back and say “What if we reimagined the whole thing?” Because we may have to anyway, right? We may be facing such foundational changes in politics, in society and technology, that we can’t go back to the old models anyway and for some people that’s a terrifying prospect. For me, and I think for others, it is an invigorating prospect and I think it’s one that young lawyers can and should be at the forefront of thinking about driving forward and accomplishing.
Vivene Salmon: So that’s such a meaningful conversation and there’s so much to unpack there. I’d like to thank you for taking the time Jordan, you know. That’s all we have for today so looking forward to continuing the conversation.
Jordan Furlong: You’ve got it. Thank you Vivene.
Vivene Salmon: I’ve been talking with Jordan Furlong, a respected legal analyst and forecaster and friend of the Canadian Bar Association. You can find out more about him and his views on the legal profession at Law21.ca.
Omar Ha-Redeye is well known in the Canadian legal community. He has been a staunch supporter to many young lawyers helping them develop their legal careers and was himself a past Young Lawyer chair in the Ontario branch. Omar has held a variety of leadership positions in the Canadian Bar Association. He’s an active networker and social media influencer. But he also keenly remembers what it felt like to be a young lawyer starting out and what it felt like launching Fleet Street Legal, a small legal firm with very little legal or business experience. Omar is currently executive director of the Durham Community Legal Clinic and he also has a dream gig; teaching law and ethics at Ryerson University.
Welcome to the podcast Omar.
Omar Ha-Redeye: Thank you for having me Vivene.
Vivene Salmon: You were called to the bar in 2011.
Omar Ha-Redeye: That’s right.
Vivene Salmon:That’s a year after I was called and three years after the economic crash when a lot of law firms changed the way they hire and promote legal talent. Your legal career has not had a storybook trajectory; join a firm, make partner, get the corner office. So how much of that do you attribute to the legal climate?
Omar Ha-Redeye: Well I think it was already in my mind from the very outset of going into the legal profession that I wasn’t going to have a traditional law career. And so although I did OCIs and I went through that process, there was never really any point where I was very excited about any of those types of opportunities. And some of them did emerge but it was just not what I thought was going to be the best approach towards developing my legal career. And so, you know, I tried to explore other opportunities and a lot of other opportunities emerged and I was very happy to pursue them.
Vivene Salmon: And so tell me, how does your experience of the legal profession differ say from that of someone who is called to the bar even 10 years earlier than you?
Omar Ha-Redeye: Well I think part of it is – and we hear this over and over again – is that the talent that we find in law schools today is superb. It’s beyond anything what previous generations have seen. I’m not going to say that I was superb in terms of talent but I think certainly my colleagues and the law students that I see going through the law school today, they’re different than previous generations. They have often multiple degrees, sometimes multiple careers, and that was certainly in that respect an aspect that I think differed from perhaps more senior lawyers in terms of chronology. Because I did come to law school having had some other work experiences in very, very different disciplines which allowed me to look at the legal profession in a very different way with a different lens and to really see perhaps there might be another way of doing things.
Vivene Salmon: So let’s pick up on that Omar. They say there’s opportunity in scarcity because it puts you, I’d say, in survival mode. It makes you think differently, creatively, to find new solutions. So what new solutions are today’s law grads finding that senior lawyers might not have had to deal with or at least not so early in their career?
Omar Ha-Redeye: Well, I think part of it is generational in the sense that there are different values. So the previous generation, or what I hear from older lawyers, is that they’ll say that younger lawyers today just don’t want to work that hard. They don’t want to put the time in, they don’t want to pay their dues. And I think, you know, my response to that would be maybe they shouldn’t have to because we’ve also seen that the jobs that were there in previous generations where, you know, you’re with one company for your entire life and you retire on a pension, it doesn’t happen. We’ve seen many, many companies in society lay off thousands of people, individuals, who are mid-career or late career and have that entire plan, if you will, pulled out from underneath them.
And so I don’t think it’s that different in the legal profession. Young lawyers are realizing that “You know what, I might struggle to get to a big law firm or to that cushy job that I think is a cushy job” and that it’s just not that stable. That the competition there is also worse and there’s no guarantee of hire back and there’s no guarantee of a partnership. And so all of that, from my perspective, is way more risky than what the alternatives are which is finding your own path and ensuring that you have built your own safety net at every step along the way in your own career.
Vivene Salmon: So I find that really interesting because essentially what you’re saying is that the social contract in a way is broken. That it’s not that young lawyers are lazy, it’s just that the world has shifted. Do you find a lot of young lawyers coming into the profession understand the realities of the profession and do you think senior lawyers have any idea of the challenges younger lawyers face?
Omar Ha-Redeye: Well, let’s start with that last point Vivene. I think without question that more senior members of the profession have absolutely no idea of what younger lawyers go through and I think that is very much a function of cost of living. So if you compare adjusted for inflation, the cost of living today, the cost of tuition has sky rocketed especially in Ontario and some of the larger law schools. And so law students are graduating with way more tuition debt than ever before, probably ever in legal history in terms of Canada. And so that does really determine their choices and so even when they are going to perhaps a legal context or a work context which perhaps compensates them quite well, they’re only doing it for the compensation; they’re not really into that job.
So when more senior lawyers don’t recognize that these junior lawyers are not really into this job and they’re not really invested in the long-term, they may not be understanding that they’re not there because they want to, they’re there because often they have to be. And so that’s certainly part of the disconnect, I think, that more senior lawyers are not seeing. In terms of the first part of your question, I wouldn’t say that the social contract is broken, I think it’s just a different contract and we’ve recognized that that’s a different contract our entire lives. It’s just perhaps other individuals in the industry don’t realize that the contract is different.
So part of it is generational like I said because the Baby Boomers in large measure have attracted a lot of the resources in terms of healthcare spending, pensions etc because those resources are geared to that significant portion of the population. So what happens to the generations that come after that; it simply means we have to be more resourceful and maybe look out for ourselves a little bit more. And that’s not being selfish, that’s simply being realistic.
Vivene Salmon: And I think maybe some senior lawyers have a hard time with that concept because I do think some of them feel it’s being a little selfish, that young lawyers seem to have multiple mentors and they don’t just have one mentor. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how the generations see the mentorship and sponsorship role versus how that might have been seen years ago.
Omar Ha-Redeye: Yeah, I mean I think previously you would individuals who would champion a specific individual within the firm and in that context, it very much was a contract because not only would they champion their success but they were guaranteeing their future in the law firm. I don’t think anybody can do that today. I don’t think the dynamics within law firms allow for that and despite the turns that I’ve taken in my career, if there was a senior lawyer today who approached me and said “Look Omar, I am going to guarantee your stability in this firm or in this field for the rest of my time in this firm. All you need to do is X, Y, Z.” I would probably jump at that opportunity. I just don’t think I’ve ever seen that type of stability anywhere else in the legal profession right now.
Vivene Salmon: Yes, and in reality, when I think about it, I don’t think there’s stability for senior lawyers either. I think that social, economic and technology has really shifted the way the game has been played.
Omar Ha-Redeye: Certainly, yeah.
Vivene Salmon: So Omar, is there anything you’d like to add in terms of this discussion that you think lawyers across the country really need to know? And even young lawyers internationally that might be listening in to our conversation.
Omar Ha-Redeye: Yeah, I’m going to pick up on that last comment Vivene which is, you’re right, even for more senior lawyers who are paying attention, they realize that there are market forces at play, there’s technological changes at work. So the legal profession is changing; we know that. The CBA has done wonderful work in terms of the futures report to recognize some of those changes and to help the guide lawyers so I think they’re aware of it. What the response largely has been is that to the extent that the existing business models are being profitable, let’s continue to do them and let’s do the minimal amount of change and innovation necessary to keep up with everything. And I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing; from a business plan perspective that’s probably the right thing to do especially for larger organizations where those types of shifts and changes are going to be very difficult and complicated.
What that means though is that when we’re looking at the legal market and those changes and the innovation and the technology, all of these things that I think are very, very exciting, those are all opportunities for people who want to be independent. Or maybe they don’t want to be independent but they just realize that that’s where they’re going to have more stability is by creating their own autonomy and independence. There is a world of opportunities, I really do believe that. There is no shortage of opportunities. Even though my legal career has been relatively short, I have found so many opportunities. But part of that isn’t a matter of real being forced to do it because of scarcity, I think in some ways it’s the opposite.
It’s the recognition that those other alternatives are themselves unstable and that I get more stability by being positive, by being confident in my abilities, by being confident in my colleagues as well. So I think, going back to your point about the mentoring, I don’t think anything that I have accomplished today would’ve been possible if it wasn’t for my colleagues in the profession – without question. The CBA, the OBA which is our local branch of the CBA, have been enormously helpful at every step along the way even before I got called to the bar. So it means that, you know, that support, those relationships, the type of mentoring that we have historically seen in the legal profession that has been an intrinsic part of what we do, it’s still there. I really do believe that in many ways and I think I tried to do that for other lawyers as well; the lawyers who might be ‘younger’ than me or behind me in terms of your call.
And I try to that wherever I can but those relationships are more flexible, they’re more dynamic, they’re often not necessarily with lawyers that you’re working with directly, right? So it might be people in a different firm that are in the same practice area, it might be individuals who you share an affinity group with, it might be people that you’re on a working group with through the CBA. I mean those are all examples that I think I firsthand have experienced where it’s not a formal mentoring relationship, it’s a matter of people are willing to help if you ask. And you have to be willing to ask, you really do. People will be willing to make the time. They may not be able to make the time tomorrow or next week but they will make the time. I believe that about our colleagues.
The legal profession is amazing in that respect. People will make time. Now not endless time and you don’t want to take advantage of that, but they will make time. They’ll make an hour in their day at some point in the next month or two, depending on what their schedule is, to have a conversation about what it is that you’re dealing with. And then what I’d say to other lawyers is have that conversation, that same conversation, with another lawyer and another lawyer and surprise, surprise, you’re going to get 10 different perspectives.
Vivene Salmon: And you’re also building community right?
Omar Ha-Redeye: Yeah, and that’s part of the community, right? You’re building community, you’re having different perspectives and then you figure out what’s right for you within that community, right? And I think that’s the role of professional organizations is that in many ways they do help foster that sense of community because – and this is what I say, right, I often say that organizations like the CBA typically will attract the best of the profession because, you know, realistically speaking we are in a profession where time is very often synonymous with money; that’s the way it works. For most of us we bill our time. And so if we’re spending our time – and many of us as volunteers we do – we spend hours and hours and hours for these volunteer organizations. We don’t do it because we expect accolades and praise from our colleagues, we don’t. We do it because we love it, because we believe in what we’re doing, we believe we’re trying to make a difference.
So those types of individuals who are giving from their time, are probably going to be the ones who are most willing to give their time to their colleagues. And so I often say those are the people that you want to reach out to first and I do that routinely, right? I mean an issue comes up on a file that I’m not familiar with, it’s something new, happens to me all the time. I don’t have the luxury of walking down the hallway and knocking on a senior partner’s door and saying “Hey, I have a complicated question, can you answer it for me?” So what I do instead typically is I will walk down the hallway, if you will, of a website, of the CBA website for a certain practice group or the LBA branch of a certain practice area or practice section, and I’m going to look and see who do I know there. And then I pick up the phone and I call them and I say “Hey, it’s Omar” and right off the bat, because we all send so much time in these organizations already, people are always willing to give their time.
They’ll say “Yeah sure, I have 15 minutes for you, tell me what you’re dealing with” and I think I have that support network in many ways through the profession even though for the majority of my career I’ve been a sole practitioner. So that’s the beauty of the profession. I think there’s a wonderful silver lining there.
Vivene Salmon: That’s amazing and I concur, there’s so many amazing senior lawyers. And in fact, not just senior lawyers; lawyers I think really want to help each other and really want to expand the way the law is practiced. At the end of the day no matter where you practice, across the country or what your practice area is, law is a helping profession. It is a profession and not a job. So Omar, I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, it’s been great. And I hope young lawyers listening, and senior lawyers across the country, feel that they’ve learned something and that they can share something too.
Omar Ha-Redeye: Thank you Vivene, it was a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Vivene Salmon: Omar Ha-Redeye is a great example of a young lawyer who entered the profession at a challenging time and used the resources available to create a successful legal career by following a non-traditional career path.
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