Why juniors are so damn valuable

Last week I saw a job description that caught my eye.

Someone was looking for a lawyer who was “NQ”.  NQ stands for Not Qualified.  That means a trainee fresh out of law school who can’t quite call themselves a lawyer yet.  They are an inquisitive, nervous, enthusiastic bunch who wear suits on the first day and still ask permission to go to lunch.  Our NQs are ambitious, focused, high achievers, but to see the market already trying to pinch them before they’ve even become lawyers was a shock.

A good shock.

It’s comfort to every junior who feels insecure at work and doubts their value.  An “NQs wanted” sign on the noticeboard is proof that you know more than you think.  People are looking for you.  The challenge for us who manage NQs is to keep them happy and motivated enough to stay with us when temptation calls.

The truth is, all our juniors are sorely needed.  We need them to use cutting-edge legal technology to make sense of rooms full of paper towers.  To guide us through everything new where our traditions look stale and frayed.  To remember birthdays.  To find what we managed to accidentally delete.  To think deeply.  To smile.  To be interested and interesting.  To ask how we’re going when we look cranky and sad.

More selfishly, we need juniors to create our legacy.  Who is a great mentor without a mentee?  Without you, we’d be lonely drunks on a bar stool giving free advice to an ash tray (figuratively speaking, though some of us literally).  Yes, leadership is our job, but we volunteer so much more than we owe because we want to be remembered by a generation who will be around to tell people who we were.  After all, what’s a great career that’s developed in secret using lessons that were passed on to no one?


So relax NQs.  As someone told me a few years ago, “nobody has any of the nuclear launch codes here.”  Work “disasters” are relative.  Things will go wrong, but rarely for the first time.  Most things can be fixed and even if they can’t, they won’t cause a nuclear winter.  We don’t think you’re silly.  In fact, we are gunning for you to succeed if for no better reason than we can take some of the credit.  So smile, ask questions and please tell me when I look cranky and sad.  We may not ask for it, but boy sometimes do we need it.

Hi! I’m a dispute resolution lawyer at Clayton Utz and the former CEO of Out for Australia, an Australian LGBTIQ+ student mentoring non-profit. Feel free to add me on LinkedIn with a message about who you are.


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