The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Improving Career Opportunities for Florida’s Lawyers

President's Page

Michael TannerI recently spoke with a prominent “vintage” lawyer who described how his career developed the way it did. He said he now realizes that two simple advantages, early in his career, made all the difference in enabling him to flourish in our profession.

The first was the advantage of several talented mentors. In a few cases, these mentor relationships were formal; that is, he was “assigned” to each mentor at various times and told to rely on them as resources. But he said most of his mentor relationships were informal and sometimes temporary and indirect. Still, from all of these relationships, he was able to observe a variety of techniques, personal styles, and skills to solve the problems the practice of law presents every day. He said he learned very early that there is rarely only one right way to address a problem and that this lesson has taught him the great value of openness to other points of view.

This lawyer’s second key career advantage — which flowed directly from his mentor relationships — was the opportunity to work on a wide variety of legal matters. From this he was able to begin to build his “knowledge base” of a broad range of legal principles, an essential element in developing sound professional judgment.

Many of you reading this will recognize the arc of your own career.

But unfortunately, not every lawyer in Florida has had these advantages and, consequently, some of our colleagues have never fully developed their potential and never found the fulfillment in our profession that they might have found. Some of these lawyers have left the practice of law, and the data shows that this has occurred most often among women and minority lawyers.

The reasons that some young lawyers receive these career advantages and others do not are varied. Sometimes, it’s because of biases (some conscious and some not); sometimes it’s because of differences in personality (enabling some young lawyers to more easily establish relationships and get better assignments); and sometimes it’s simply because of random circumstances. But whatever the reason, the loss to our profession from this unfulfilled potential should be obvious to us. The question is: What can we do about it?

One solution lies with the thousands of employers of Florida’s lawyers — private law firms, government agencies, and corporate law departments — because they have the power to ensure that, as much as possible, every young lawyer who enters our profession is given career development opportunities to help them succeed.

This year the Board of Governors has been working to address this issue through the Special Committee on Opportunity in the Practice of Law in Florida. The special committee was authorized by the board in May 2021 and was charged with the responsibility for developing recommendations “to increase opportunities in employment, leadership, and career development in private law firms, corporate law departments, and government agencies, and increase meaningful economic participation in private law firms for all Florida lawyers, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any factor other than merit.” Serving on the committee are lawyers with experience in large firms, small firms, and government agencies across Florida. Special committee recommendations or “best practices” for employers could include structured relationship programs, case assignment protocols, performance evaluations, and other career development templates that, if adopted and employed, will help every young lawyer develop to her or his fullest potential.

Certainly, these recommendations will be voluntary for employers of Florida’s lawyers, but hopefully the benefits of the recommendations will be so self-evident that employers will enthusiastically adopt them.

Some employers may look at the special committee’s recommendations through the lens of better training their lawyers; some may look through the lens of increasing diversity within our profession; while others may look through the lens of improving firm profitability. Each of these perspectives is valid, but ultimately, the goal of the special committee’s work is to improve our profession for the benefit of the public we serve. Watch for further reporting between now and June 2022 on this important work.