No one disputes the many benefits and efficiencies that remote work brings to the legal profession: work-life balance, flexibility, eradicating needless travel time, increased focus, and even more billable hours!
Emil Ovbiagele, Marquette 2014, is the founder and managing attorney of OVB Law & Consulting S.C., Milwaukee. He is president of the State Bar of Wisconsin Young Lawyers Division and vice president of the Milwaukee Bar Association.
Still, I’m concerned about some potential long-term consequences of our new (ab)normal. As a younger lawyer, I wonder what closed office doors and open computer screens might mean for the career prospects of our newest generation of lawyers. The ones educated, in part, via “Teams,” cameras optional. The ones whose socialization into the profession is through Zoom happy hours. The ones whose only mentoring, and ideas of the practice of the law, rest solely within the bandwidth of a strong Wi-Fi connection.
We cannot innovate our way out of the importance and need for in-person interactions. Early in my career, I started my own firm. The success of my career, firm, and practice is deeply rooted in early cross-sectional relationships I developed with mentors, fellow attorneys, the community, and clients. These relationships were fostered in law school classrooms and courthouse hallways, at State Bar of Wisconsin conferences and events, at lunches, dinners, and happy hours, and by serendipitous interactions with people.
But my concerns go deeper. In a profession already dealing with high rates of depression and other mental health issues, I worry that fully remote work practices for new lawyers likely adds another layer of stress and sense of isolation. New lawyers face the real risk of being swallowed by a virtual environment disconnected from genuine and personal interactions that foster mentorship, well-being, and learning opportunities needed from experienced colleagues.
Our profession is about creating well-rounded professionals, proficient in discerning human interactions and solving complex problems. This value to humanity rests in real interactions, trust, and camaraderie. Lawyers are humans. Humans are social beings.
Quality networks and social proficiency are invaluable, especially during the early phases of one’s career. They are strong indicators of future career advancement, competency, and job satisfaction. The relationships of already established attorneys were not formed through emojis or liking comments on a chat screen. They were formed through in-person interactions, which are more likely to form strong and resilient ties.
For new lawyers, the opportunities to make quality connections and lasting professional relationships might never come or will be severely limited because of the closed-off realities of a virtual world. Lawyers typically do not enter the profession with the deep relationships and professional capital required for success.
No matter how much we force it, the trust needed for true mentorship, career development, lasting client relationships, and a sense of belonging cannot be achieved via the pinhole of a 4k webcam while wearing pajama bottoms.
Yes, let’s march forward, armed with the efficiencies and flexibilities of our newfound tools. But let’s ensure that we don’t leave a generation of lawyers stuck behind screens. The long-term viability and progress of our profession might depend on it.
Meet Our Contributors
Where did you grow up, and what lessons did you learn from your family?
I grew up in Benin City, Nigeria. Although I lost my father at a young age, I’ve always counted my blessings. My mother taught me to never wallow in our misfortune and to practice gratitude through trying times. Consequently, I’ve lived my life with the mantra that, regardless of circumstances, for every opportunity I’ve been given and for every misfortune I’ve suffered, there’s someone out there who has been given half as much, has suffered twice as much, but has been thrice as impactful. No excuses.
My upbringing also imparted important advice to me that I want to pass along to other new lawyers. Have an entrepreneurial mindset from the get-go! This doesn’t mean you have to start your own law firm. It means taking charge of your career very early on and treating it like it is a corporate entity. Be intentional, don’t just let things happen to you all the time. Dare to affect your circumstances. Be relentless about chasing experiences. Try out new things. Adjust. Be your biggest critic and biggest fan.
Find your voice. Don’t just network, build relationships. Start figuring out what type of lawyer you want to be. No, not just what type of law you want to practice. I mean, figure out what guides you. What are your core values? What’s your vision? What’s your mission? Set those out. Put mind to purpose. You don’t need to have everything (or most things) figured out. You just have to be in tune with yourself and locked in on the journey. It will likely take you on paths you never imagined or anticipated. Embrace the possibilities.
Emil Ovbiagele, OVB Law & Consulting S.C., Milwaukee.
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» Cite this article: 94 Wis. Law. 72 (November 2021).