REFLECTIONS: WELFARE OF YOUNG LAWYERS AND RELATED ISSUES – PAUL USORO, SAN FCIArb

Contributing Factors (III): Purported
Greed and Insensitivity of Seniors

Most young lawyers believe that their seniors colleagues are insensitive, selfish and greedy and these account for the poor remuneration structure for most juniors. This may very well be correct in some instances, but it is not a universal truth, for, as we have shown in the preceding pieces of this Series, there’re indeed other fundamental causative factors that account for this malaise. In this segment, however, I’ll be addressing this purported insensitivity, selfishness and greed of some senior lawyers which presumably makes them pay their junior colleagues poorly and also pay scant attention to the welfare of these junior lawyers. I believe that this class of senior lawyers are not irredeemable; there are two remediation steps – and these are not exhaustive howsoever – that the NBA can take to turn them around for their own good and the good of their junior colleagues.

First, some lawyers need to learn and understand that one of the fundamental building blocks of any successful and thriving organization and/or institution is its workforce. Identify any successful and thriving organization and/or institution and you’ll find at its base, a crop of committed, motivated, self-assured, well remunerated and properly kitted workforce. That is a fundamental lesson that is sometimes lost on some lawyers – not only the seniors, by the way. Some lawyers may indeed believe in putting down their younger colleagues by paying them poorly and not exposing them to clients, believing, quite erroneously, that the younger colleagues, if so exposed and well remunerated, may hijack the clients and set up their own practice. Many years ago, I was advised by an in-house senior colleague who meant well, not to expose my junior colleagues (I would regularly attend meetings with and involve my junior colleagues in managing the client) to the then prevalent and relatively lucrative mortgage perfection assignments for fear that they could set up their own Firms and take over those assignments from me.

Much as I appreciated the concern of my senior colleague, I didn’t take his advice because, learning then from my personal experience, I knew that a resourceful junior colleague will find his way to the sources of briefs and instructions whether or not he was exposed thereto by his employers. Indeed, the hijack of clients by junior colleagues is always a present possibility but the antidote to that risk does not lie in keeping the junior colleagues down and away from clients. The antidote actually lies, primarily, in encouraging the junior colleagues, through and with the use, amongst others, of reasonable incentives and welfare packages, to invest emotionally in the practice and understand that the success of the firm amounts to the success of the collective including the junior lawyer’s own personal success. Equally important the senior colleague must at all times show intellectual leadership in the supervision and handling of the Firm’s assignments such that the clients would know and firmly believe that it would be against their personal interests to be lured away from the senior counsel by a less experienced and less skilled junior counsel.

These critical lessons need to be incorporated into the NBA-mandated law office management CLE program which I earlier alluded to in the preceding pieces of this Series. The benefits from such a well-articulated training program for the generality of lawyers are unquantifiable and best imagined. The results would be evident not only in the enlarged portfolio of assignments and profit margins of the Firms but in the multitude of committed, fully motivated and reasonably remunerated junior lawyers in the Firms’ workforce. Would that wipe out discontents and gripes against senior lawyers in the workplace? Definitely not; there are and there will always be discontents in any and all organizations. Their numbers must however always be in the extreme minority and every step that would reduce these numbers amongst junior lawyers is worth taking.

The second step that the NBA can and should take as a remediation step against the purported insensitivity, greed and selfishness of senior lawyers is to enthrone moral leadership in its ranks. In particular and as it relates to the welfare of junior lawyers, the NBA President should be a senior lawyer who leads by example and can boldly show a record of having managed a Firm that has a reasonable number of juniors who have consistently been well remunerated and motivated prior to his/her taking the mantle of NBA leadership. Such a track record will vest the NBA President with the moral aura, fortitude and courage to speak up in favour of properly remunerating junior lawyers and paying attention to their welfare, drawing from his personal experience and practice. His utterances and articulations in that regard would be much more compelling and practical in nature and will not pass merely as academic and/or hypocritical exhortations by the President. The senior lawyers whom the President will be addressing will also be receptive to his exhortations knowing that the President has himself been practising what he is preaching and that his words do not amount to mere preachments

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