May 2006 Issue
Michael Taylor doesn’t dress the part of one of the most innovative and sought-after lawyers in Washington state.
There’s no natty power suit, no shiny wing tips, no calfskin briefcase. There’s just a middle-aged guy in khakis and an ’80s-style knit tie worn under a lightweight ski jacket.
Nor does Taylor’s office look much like he’s the head lawyer for the increasingly economically powerful Tulalip tribes (pronounced Tu-lay-lip), with whom he’s worked for the past 13 years of his 35-year association with American Indian tribes.
He does the tribes’ legal business out of a converted baseball shed on the edge of the parking lot near the tribal council building. The office, modestly described as ramshackle, has the decor of a bachelor pad and the smell of cedar, leather and old coffee.
Welcome to the law firm generation gap, 21st century style. Ask any law firm partner about the young associates working for them these days, and chances are you’ll get an earful. If you listen to their grumbling, they will have you believing that today’s young lawyers—Generation Y, if you will—are an entirely different breed, one that sees no need to invest the time or effort required to reap the rewards of law firm life.
So, would you hire a lawyer—or want to work next to one—who never went to law school? For years, ideas have been batted around to improve the way lawyers are educated, ranging from allowing apprenticeships to changing bar exam standards to wiping out law school altogether. Interest rises and falls, but tends to rise again when questioning about the profession itself grows louder.
Deep down, every practicing attorney knows that the most crucial step in taking on a new client isn’t the initial contact, or the wining and dining, or even signing the representation agreement. It’s the conflicts check. But all too often, lawyers treat the conflicts check as almost an afterthought, even though doing so can have disastrous consequences, including loss of clients, ethics sanctions and malpractice claims.