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Alli Gerkman

I've purposely avoided this battle for some time, but...

On your comments about GenY and client service:

When I have had the privilege (and I do very much consider it a privilege) of talking to attorneys who have been practicing since the '50s or early '60s, they often lament some of the changes they have seen in law and what they characterize as a deterioration of a client-focused practice.

These changes they lament didn't happen in the last 6 years (or those years in which GenY started becoming lawyers), but, rather, over the last 50... 30 of which included boomers in the workforce.

The boomers are the ones who have been running firms (not to mention the country and the world) and setting the standard for client service for years. If they're not happy with how things are going, it might be wise to evaluate their own leadership.

I agree that lawyers should be making client service a top priority. I'm just not so sure the problem began with GenY.

Stephanie West Allen

Thanks, Alli. I don't think the millennials are to blame for any decline in client service in the overall profession—yet. I am saying that those who lack the client service focus are a problem. It is a symptom of those with the me-focus. When I was on the panel in Chicago, not one millennial in the audience who spoke up mentioned the client. It was an amazing and troubling debate.

Alli Gerkman

I'm not sure there's a "me focus" for GenY any more so than there was for Boomers or GenX. It just shows up in different ways. In broad strokes... Boomers are notorious for patting themselves on the back; GenX is confident that its cynicism is a sign of intellectual superiority; and, yes, GenY thinks it's something special, too.

I wasn't at the panel, so I can't speak to it or its attendees (who was the GenY rep on the panel?), but having read recaps it seems to me the conversation there was about general generational workplace issues. The description of the program printed by WSJ Law Blog didn't mention client service or anything resembling it.

And perhaps GenY doesn't see client service as relevant to that particular discussion because young people don't think client service has to suffer at all. Thanks to technology, GenY is far more tied to the client at all hours of the day than any previous generation and this, to them, is normal. Young lawyers and professionals I know think nothing of fielding client calls over the weekend or diving into a client emergency in the middle of the night.

Stephanie West Allen

Alli, I will write more later. Did I send you this before?

http://westallen.typepad.com/files/gen-y.pdf

It's a bibliography of writings about Gen Y.

Dan Hull

My law firm serves publicly-traded clients (95% of work and revenues) doing about 10 corporate law areas. We are nice people with good credentials. Republicans, Democrats, all religions and ages. Majority stockholders are women.

We've done an expensive "study" for the last 5 or 6 years. Lots of "data". Conclusion: Gen-Y standards are consistently and uniformly low on almost any category of work skills (except tech) you can list, especially, and quite ironically, in these 2 areas: (a) the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity posed by difficult challenges or questions in day-to-day work; and (b) degree of cultural literacy, and general knowledge of the world and Western civilization. We are talking about top law students here. In other words, (a) they fall apart if there is no cookie cutter solution to a problem. And (b) they will embarrass you at dinner with clients with a lack of sophistication and even general knowledge about the World that is astonishing. (If you leave them back at the office, they will just bolt for home anyway the minute you leave.)

These flaws do not make Gen-Y "Different". These flaws make them Worse. It doesn't matter why this has happened--or if anyone is to blame. But Gen-Y needs to change: higher standards about work and life. Get tougher, get smarter. But no one should put up with low standards. Absurdly self-involved younger workers in the professions are not ever good for clients, patients and customers--but it's something you can work on with these employees, and hope they grow out of. But being "militantly" untalented and uncurious is a bit more than employers should have to tolerate, or try to change.

Dan Hull

PS The May 2009 Chicago Super Conference Gen-Y panel was "about clients" if nothing else. Two of my own firm's clients were on the panel. Two very young GCs, as well.

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog--which I like having been in it a few times--really blew the reporting on Super Conference by doing a super-bad job on the story and relying heavily on on the "take" of a young "consultant" in the audience with a JD and no job, too much time on his hands, and an axe to grind, who misreprsented the proceedings cavalierly.

I set up the seminar with Summit Media (hard-working and smart Sheila Brennan) and the panelists and we worked very hard on a quality program where people could learn something--and even change their minds; but it was piss-poor reporting job by WSJ Law Blog (and the ABA article as well).

The WSJ never called me, the moderator and a boomer. It did interview boomer panelist Scott Greenfield and got what Greenfield said wrong. WSJ also apparently interviewed another person in the audience for whom facts, quality, standards and the Law are very unimportant next to Twittering, mailing it in and being a shill for the art of dumbing down work.

Super Conference Gen-Y panel: Hard work dumbed down by people who have no interest in clients, The Law, or getting it right. The "work" by the WSJ and "coverage" by the "consultant" mentioned above (who milked SC shamelessly in several articles and blog posts) were quick and incompetent hits. They got it wrong.

Everyone else? We left the conference to return to our lives of putting clients first. We don't have time to react to every snake oil salesman we encounter.

Susan Cartier Liebel, Esq.

Stephanie, you write, "As I said above, one thing that troubles me deeply in this ongoing discussion about the generations is the important matter of client service."

That's because, in my opinion, the wrong question is being asked. And quite possibly the question is being asked in the wrong forums.

If you ask generation-by-generation 'when you are building your law practice, what are your goals for your client' - the answer would be client-centric.

When you ask generation-by-generation 'when you are building your law practice, what are your professional and personal goals, that's an ego-centric question.

Seems to me everyone is asking the ego-centric question and applying the answer to the 'un-asked' client-centric question.

An answer for one doesn't translate to the other. Nor are the goals mutually exclusive. Why can't both goals be satisfied 100%?


Stephanie West Allen

Hi, Susan. Thanks for weighing in. I am confused by your comment. I don't think any of my four questions were ego-centric, were they?

In the last paragraph, I specifically say the goals are not mutually exclusive. Help me out here.

Alli Gerkman

Dan--I appreciate the additional information. It is unfortunate that the WSJ misrepresented the panel.

I still think it is imprecise to apply these traits to a generation when there are so many other factors involved. I also think the statement that GenY needs to grow up/get with it/or whatever phrase fits does nothing to ensure improved client service. It doesn't actually address the problem. This is like saying "all politicians are corrupt and need to start being honest." It's an empty statement that changes nothing and, eventually, becomes so empty that nothing ever changes.

On another note... the associates you mention don't sound like people I would want to go to dinner with, much less send out with clients. If "top law students" don't have any world knowledge, basic or otherwise, there's something really wrong with the whole system--and with the way firms have traditionally recruited "top students."

Charon QC

Interestingly, I asked Professor Stephen Mayson, a noted academic and former partner at Clifford Chance, only yesterday whether we had a work life balance issue in our law firms. He thought we did, taking the entirely pragmatic line that if lawyers are working too many hours and, thereby, become ineffective, the quality of client care goes down and that is Lose / Lose.

I would agree with that assessment. It is then important for law firms (or any other business) to put in place adequate measures to ensure the client interest (and, therefore, the firm interest) is protected.

I asked Mayson if he thought we had a Gen Y / Gen X issue here. he thought not. I mentioned 'The Slackoisie" noting the origin of the word.

Mayson's view is that it may well be a particularly American issue in terms and that there was little evidence of any significant difference between generations in the UK among those who work in our version of BIGLAW - the City or large Commercial firms where long hours are the norm.

For my part - I have little interest or sympathy for those who seek to go into law and who do not want to work hard - IF they expect a free ride or to be carried by their peers and those of greater experience.

I have worked with such people - but not for long... because I was the boss and I fired them. They did not fit with my work ethic and they did not fit with those around me who worked hard.

Fortunately, in 25 years I only had to fire two people - I lost no sleep at all in doing so.

If younger (or, indeed, any lawyer) can get away with doing very little without messing up their client's lives or business - well and good. I doubt whether this is possible in matters of heavy corporate or crime , or indeed, in many fields of legal practice - but may well be fine in non-time sensitive or pressured situations. I am familiar with Scott Greenfield's views on this and also those expressed by Dan Hull. I agree with the position and stance they take.

Lawyers, in the UK at least, tend to enjoy their work and for that reason may well work longer hours than is strictly necessary. That is their choice - but if it impacts on the firm or their families, that is, clearly, an issue.


The legal profession in this country is known for pressure and, sadly, for incidents of alcoholism and drug abuse. I may joke about my Rioja intake - but I drink no more than an English or French gentleman should. I do not need recreational drugs. It is, however, a very serious problem. It may also be in the USA?

The fact of the matter is - rewards do not always come to those who work hard. Market forces can militate against this. There is an irony that many practitioners in the UK work long hours for very little reward - simply because crime does not pay, nor do many other areas of client work. Only in the corporate and banking world do lawyers enjoy astronomical rates of pay. Is a lawyer who does BIGLAW work any more valuable to society? I don't think so - but what I think doesn't matter. If the country is daft enough, as we clearly are in the UK, to allow our Bankers to run amok unregulated or inadequately regulated, charge astronomical fees for lending other people's money, pay lawyers astonishing figures and then bail the bankers out when the 'Ship of fools' take us to the very edge of financial Armageddon, I would argue that Gen X has got a problem - one of proportion, common sense and basic humanity. Some lawyers get a bad press in the UK for their greed. It doesn't trouble those who come into that particular category - but the mumbo jumbo wallahs in the Church here do have a point - if we are to have a fairer society is it not time to control the activities of our bankers, our City / BIGLAW lawyers? Why should lawyers be paid any more than, for example, a teacher, a hospital doctor, a care worker? We live in a dystopic society driven, yet financed by the greed and venality of bankers and get rich quick entrepreneurs. Fortunately - many entrepreneurs put their money to good social use and give back a great deal. Others do not - and for them, I have no sympathy or interest when things go BNAG.. as they have and will do so again unless we learn the lessons of the recent credit crunch past.

I am looking very closely as to whether lawyers should be put in the dock for culpability in the credit crunch. After all - they drafted the instruments, they advised the bankers. Ironically... using the plea of the SS officers and soldiers at Nuremberg... they plead that were only following orders and therefore are not culpable! Really?

Here endeth my rant of the week...

Susan Cartier Liebel, Esq.

Stephanie,

I wasn't referring to your particular questions, actually. But you do say you are always listening for the mention of 'client service' in these conversations, especially from the Gen Ys. But if they are not being asked the question about their attitude or commitment to client service, you're not going to hear a discussion or a perspective.

And then to compound this by asking the question, 'then why did they go into a service profession'? seems like a throw-away question or a conclusion.

Service to a client does not mean servitude to an employer.

But that being said, I've come to realize I don't have a dog in this fight. I am not an employer, have never been an employer nor will ever be an employer. I do not hire and fire. I do not invest time and money into another only to have them not live up to my exacting standards or leave because I couldn't live up to theirs.

I have worked for myself for the past 18 years and have had long stretches of self-employment before that. I've been working since I was thirteen not because I had to but because I wanted to. I could never work for someone else long-term but I've always known that. Employment for me was just a means to get to where I wanted to be - self-employment.

I pretty much only work with those who feel the same way but either made poor 'employment' decisions along the way or had their 'self-employment' epiphany on someone else's dime.

Other than a philosophical question about a generation, it's not part of my daily professional experience.

The Gen Y's I converse with are an exciting group because they will effectuate change. There is not one basement-dweller amongst them. Maybe I'm spoiled but I hang with a pretty exciting professional crowd that crosses all generational lines. Client service is a given for them, not a debate. :-)

Andrew

As another Brit wading in, I was not familiar with the term but certainly agree with Dan Hull's views. My own view, having battled with too many crap Gen Y employees, is that the educational culture in which they have grown up (in the UK, it is now near on impossible not to pass, let alone attain top grades by showing up for some spoon feeding) has left a generation bereft of the fear of failure. They move from an educational environment, in which everyone gets a prize, into a commercial culture which is, at best, unforgiving and, at worst, brutal.

With many, it is not just the ability to adapt which is lacking but the inability to recognise the need in the first place which is the root of the problem.

Dan Hull

Alli (and all)--

I really do appreciate your comments but you may not be hearing (probably my fault here) the enormity of the problem. It's not just Scott Greenfield, Julie McGuire and Dan Hull who are having a huge and crisis-level problem with younger grads. Others, finally, are starting to talk about it.

This is by far the longest comment I have ever made anywhere and I have tons of things I should be doing. But I am concerned about the expensive, at times incredibly aggravating, and client-threatening issue of "Gen-Y".

One note about solos: I appreciate that the economy forces people into solo shops. But listen up, please. Very few people of any age in any profession have the discipline to work on their own, or even work remotely for an employer. Working "on your own" or having your own business is for the 5% of the population with the energy, drive and standards to do it. It is hard.

Solo practice--which I have never known, and would never want, but I do know a few fine solos--is not a catchall for people who cannot find jobs or want "to get over". It is a hard life for very unusual people. Like any form of self-employment, it is for organized, driven, energetic, and extremely ambitious people--not rank and file workers (including even promising lawyers) seeking a lifestyle where they can command their own destinies and have "work-life balance". You want that? Find an employer with a "life-style" shop. Great work if you want it.

At any rate, I have been a lawyer for a long time (both Big Law and boutique). We put our heart and soul into training associates, paralegals and staff. We talk about them constantly. Lots of feedback--good and bad. We are very honest with them on the subject of "how am I doing?" They don't even have to ask. Starting lawyers are treated like important players who will be partners one day from Day One.

Clients--real people who work for companies--are part of their every day. Right away, they are writing and talking to clients, unless "talking" alone on the phone or in person takes a bit more time (the clients are almost always in-house counsel, and some people "get there' sooner than others). We want them to know that pressure, and that privilege.

At our shop, associates are always "relevant" to every day at work. We are available to them. Always. We do several types of corporate work: international, corporate tax, deals, securities, federal courts and ADR abroad, IP, lobbying, and more. Work with Congress and federal agencies. Interesting but challenging problems. No one is bored. No cookie cutter stuff.

Me? I travel, work, speak, write about the profession, try cases and work extensively all over the Americas and in western Europe. I love what I do--and I am well-rounded if nothing else. I work out of three cities with 15 very fine lawyers who can work anywhere. I would like to build it up to 30 or 35, with a 4th brick-and- mortar office in London or Brussels, but our inability to find competent (i.e., client-centric and hard-working) baffles us, and we are behind in our plan:

1. People who are born after 1965 are very different. If born after 1978, they are very very different. And they are "worse"--not different (see above comments, too). The "relativism" you often see in this discussion on standards from generation to generation is, I think, misplaced. The "being different" or "wanting something different" is very unfair to clients if clients are being shortchanged. And they are. Clients ARE being hurt if any worker puts their own convenience first for even a moment. The mindset we are seeing is never "client". It is just "Me"--and it is frightening that anyone would ever find this okay in a law firm.

2. Clients don't need you every moment, true--but you need to be there when it counts. I have seen only one "Gen-Y"--his name is Tom Welshonce, and he may be from a different galaxy--put clients "first" on instinct. Even after months of working with us, the "client chip" is missing. Younger workers are simply not wired that way. They can not buy into it in a more than lip service way.

We are seeing all this as a strong pattern every day. It is threatening to even have people in the office who at best regard clients as "the equipment" in a game that lawyers play. In the past 5 or 6 years, I have worked with perhaps 25 students and young associates (all "Gen-Y") from all over the U.S. At most, only 2 or 3 of had any business ever going to law school or any other professional school.

3. These are "smart" and good if extraordinarily self-centered people ("It's all about me and my career--not your clients or your firm," they are very clearly saying.) The sheer and at times even elegant Moxie of all this would be very appealing and fun if it were backed up by real literacy, real mental agility, grit, brains, competitive spirit, heart, spirit, a refusal to be defeated, and a problem-solving mindset. But you rarely see those qualities.

I can see them ALL working as retail clerks, sellers of clothes, managers of stores, bank tellers, branch mangers, government employees, middle-tier insurance company middle managers and supervisors in factories--but NOT in the law, or in medicine.

I do NOT see any of them ever having their own businesses (any kind of business) for longer than 18 months.

Nor can I see them in any other profession or trade where the client, patient or customer has problems that do not keep strict "bankers hours".

4. In September of last year, I attended a conference of lawyers who work internationally from about 35 countries. I know most them very well. "Gen-Y" was not even on the agenda. And it's all anyone seemed to want to talk about.

5. At that conference, a partner from one first-rate Denver law firm I spoke to about this issue off and on for four days was very frustrated that lawyers in their 40s and 50s worked longer hours than new grads. He was, however, happy that his firm was not alone. Until our meeting, he had clearly believed that in was "not PC" to even talk about the issue.

Another firm, in Brazil, was more aggressive. For a year, it has no longer permitted even the best lawyers it could find to work there unless there was a three-month probation. The reason: difficulties in 2006 and 2007 in the big city South American markets with young law grads who thought that their job was somehow a birthright. London lawyers chimed in as only they can do. More Americans piped up. It was extraordinary. This was in early September 2008

6. People who are "absurdly self-involved" will never put clients first or do so on their terms only. I have seen it again and again for nearly 10 years and more acutely in the last 5 years.

7. I am not given to generalizations--especially ones that yield so few exceptions--and no lawyer likes to admit that he or she embraces one. When I started to put together Super Conference with Sheila Brennan, I had hoped to change my own thinking about the pattern I was seeing with close to 50 Gen-X or Gen-Y employees (yeah, 50, I am embarrassed) at my shop in the last 10 years. I had hoped to either change my perception, or my way of working with younger people. Or just change me. The panel was a personal "mission" for me: I wanted to learn how I might be wrong.

8. But the "generalization" about those born after 1980 especially has--and astonishingly--too few exceptions. I keep seeing it at work--and have seen it continue with four hires (Law Review, Coif--all but one) since just before and after the May conference in Chicago. I liked all four--but was glad to see all four of them leave. One of them was truly gifted as a legal thinker. But I would rather be shorthanded than compromise our standards for clients. Clients are not on their radar screen.

9. My law firm's experience with younger workers in recent years is my failure, my partners' failure, and our firm's failure. We are not blaming anyone but us. But that does not change the generalization: in a nutshell, that a whole generation of would-be professionals have been born that were lulled into thinking: (a) that employees (not clients or the firm them) were always the main event; (b) that work would never be hard or complex; and (c) that work would never take much time.

10. Again, these are "smart" and nice if not terribly polished people. They are a semi-literate for some reason--and they are young. They are polite, and even too nice in some cases; several of the male associates are exceedingly agreeable and bordering on "sweet" in an otherworldly and eerie Mr. Rogers-esque way (well, I finally got over that).

But, in my view, they will never be good, happy or effective lawyers. They will never put clients first. At my firm we have seen it over and over again. For these workers, client service is entirely (100%) a function of personal convenience; a job is very close to a "right"; and nothing in life is ever very hard or were they led to believe it was supposed to be.

There are apparently millions of these young people--in all parts of the workplace. When the associates and clerks in our office have suddenly discovered that the law and life is NOT all that easy, they have fallen apart under the slightest pressure. We feel bad for them--but it's either them or us. We always hope they resign before we have to terminate them. And usually they do. Our co-founder Julie McGuire--who is as nice as she is a brilliant, respected and well-liked international lawyer--and I (not so loved) are mystified.

Thanks for putting up with me if you read all this. I have a few solutions for my firm--but not for what I see as the overall problem.

J.D.F.

I have your answers. First of all, client service is a loaded term. I'm willing to work hard for clients, if their requests are reasonable. The problem with my generation is that we won't be slaves to clients. We will work hard if what they want is reasonable. Not even right. Just reasonable. Often it's not. Second, we would better serve clients if we weren't so far removed from them. We are tired of being cogs in the wheel. Finally, client service is meaningless when you don't respect what the client does. Maybe Gen Y is just composed of a larger percentage of dreamers and idealists than the Boomers who have given in. But I don't like working for Exxon or Haliburton; they are too-big companies with a-hole executives that treat both people and their lawyers like crap. How can I get excited and passionate about their cause? Disenchanted Esq.

Mark H.

Maybe the real problem is with all of the older lawyers who literally worked their lives away, ostensibly serving their clients (or so they told themselves, though the lure of fame and glory and fortune no doubt played its role) while missing out on many of the experiences with family and friends that most human beings consider to be the sine qua non of a life well lived.

Indeed, from the tone of this post and the comments, I suspect many of you must realize, on some level, just how little you've gotten in return for all of your hard "work." Sure, you have some wealth, perhaps some distinction in your profession. But your lives have not turned out quite the way you had envisioned, and there's no going back in time to being a better father, mother, spouse, neighbor, friend. Yet rather than dealing with your regret -- and the existential crisis that this inevitably would evoke -- you would rather spend blowing gas about young folks.

Oh well. Your choice. As is it is the choice of Gen X and Yers to live differently. Maybe we won't be any better at it than you. But having seen how little lasting happiness your own love affair with work and money has brought, we are willing to take the risk.

Louie

I'm a Gen-Xer, I guess ('77). I'm a junior associate at a pretty big firm--took some time off between undergrad and law school. And I must say, I'm a little confused (and almost offended) by this post. I see a lot of vague phrases like "client first," but not specific examples. What exactly do these horrid young lawyers do to get themselves labeled "narcissists"? Do they, for example, have the gall to not respond to an 11pm email until the next morning? Do they [gasp] turn their Blackberry off (or worse yet, leave it at home) when they go out to a movie or theater in the evening? Admittedly, I myself regularly engage in that most heinous act of (generally) leaving the office at 6 and finishing my work from home. Does this somehow mean I don't care about clients?

Certainly context is important, and any attorney should be cognizant of what is going on with their clients in order to know what to expect (as well as what the client will expect). And were an associate to abandon the client in the midst of a turn of documents, trial prep, or other ongoing project solely because they had better things to do, the narcissist label might be deserved. But I don't think that setting some boundaries should be grounds for criticism. Unless I'm in the middle of a project on which I'm expecting some "action," what is the problem with putting the Blackberry on my dresser and going to a movie? Lawyers are not doctors; in most cases, a client will not face an early grave if they have to wait overnight to receive a response to their email. And if the situation is that urgent, one would hope the client had the good sense to give their attorney a heads-up about it.

What older attorneys seem to ignore is the change in the legal culture in the past 15 years. When I was born, many of the technological chains to the office--email, Blackberries--did not exist. When an associate had a quiet day and left at 5:30, they didn't face the prospect of an "emergency" email at 9pm demanding revised documents by morning. Clients in that situation were forced into maintaining some degree of reasonableness to their expectations. As recently as a few years before I started, documents were mailed back and forth between the parties and anything that didn't get done before 5pm (in time for the FedEx pickup) didn't get done until the next day. Lo and behold, the business world still functioned.

Finally, maybe there are some even more objectionable behaviors present in Gen-Y that I'm not aware of. But even asusming that much, I do know that it is simply shortsighted to think that, because it's hard getting Gen-Yers to share your values, you can write them off as employees. The fact of the matter is that whatever cultural/social/educational factors made them what they are, those factors aren't going to disappear in years to com. In other words, the trends you are bemoaning are only going to get worse. And unless older attorneys are willing to take on the "grunt work" of the legal profession--and their beloved clients are willing to PAY for more senior attorneys to handle that work--firms are ALWAYS going to need young attorneys to keep the mills turning.

David

20 years ago a firm that asked assoicates to bill 2000 hours in a year was a sweatshop. Now even the kinder, gentler firms are asking for 2400+ hours a year and don't give junior assoicates any contact with the client at all. Is it a wonder that some are disillusioned with the idea that "client service" should take precident over everything else? Perhaps if overall demands were fewer, young attorneys would be more willing to put client service first. But when work already threatens to be all-consuming, the precious little "life" that biglaw associates have becomes more and more precious.

DCML

Define "work-life" balance. I think the millenials would tell you that they worked 1600-1800 hours a year, and had time to be involved in the community and/or religious activities, play golf, and get married and have children. I don't think the millenials have any idea what it's like to be an associate at a biglaw firm and have 2000+ minimum billable requirements (with 2200+ billable expectations), to have to constantly respond to 1am or weekend emails within the first couple minutes of getting them, and to do all that while having a zero percent shot at partnership. I doubt the millenials had to deal with midnight electronic filing deadlines and were always getting edits and changes after 10pm. I doubt millenials had to wait 6+ years to be allowed to take a deposition or argue a motion, or spent their first several years out of law school doing almost nothing other than reviewing documents and managing large-scale document reviews. I doubt the millenials took out $100,000-150,000 or more to pay for their law school education and had little other options other than working at a firm to pay it back. In biglaw, there is no investment by partners, no mentoring, little substantive work, little to no client contact, no chance at partnership, no respect for an associate's time out of the office, and no loyalty -- so why do the millenials expect younger attorneys to have the same attitudes towards law firm work that they did?

Alli Gerkman

Dan--Thanks for engaging with me. After reading more about your firm, I'm disappointed you're not finding good people. It seems like a great place to build a practice.

I was just reading some of the comments that were added today and some reminded me of one of my first comments in this string: the practice has been changing for decades. The way firms value attorneys has been changing for decades. I do believe new attorneys (and the educations they received) are products of that, to some extent.

That doesn't make it OK--I think new attorneys (and not so new attorneys) should figure out how to build a client-focused practice.

But this gets to the heart of my frustration. The online discussion has devolved (very quickly) into Us v. Them. That leaves us at a standstill and makes me think that nobody on either side really wants a solution. I don't see how this problem can be addressed without GenY. And I don't see how GenY can be engaged and be called names at the same time. Which means client service will continue to suffer.

James

If boomers had faced the working conditions in their early years that Gen Y does, they wouldn't have the nerve to complain about our work ethic.

They billed 1500 hours, were never handcuffed to their blackberries 24/7, didn't graduate with 200K in student loans, had contact with clients, did substantive work, and actually had a legitimate shot at partnership. Where in god's name do they get off working Gen Y associates TWICE as hard as anyone ever worked them, and then complaining that we're not tough enough?

Have some shame, really.

Richard C

Whilst one might regret the "them and us" development of this debate, the obvious solution to this is to dispense with the gross generational stereotypes that are being bandied around as if they were some kind of undisputed fact in the first place!

On the one side I think there is an air of nostalgia induced amnesia (with a generous side helping of self congratulation) and on the other there is a "chip on the shoulder" perception of previous generations having it easy and being too demanding.

For Mr Hull, I would suggest the more likely answer to your personnel problems would lie in your recruitment practices being tweaked as opposed to nurturing a full blown stereotype about anyone born after 1965! I suspect, like many law firms nowadays, that the criteria to even get an application past the initial sift has become so inflated that you are all supping from a pool of straight A students, who are excellent in passing exams but not very rounded in much else.....but that's a different debate!

F.P. Heur

Twenge's argument has come in for some pretty damning criticism. See, http://www.astcweb.org/public/publication/article.cfm/1/21/3/Narcissism-in-Generation-Y-and-Litigation-Advocacy. She doesn't help matters when she attempts to adduce the rise in rates of plastic surgery and mortgage debt as "cultural evidence" for increased narcissism in generation Y (somehow I suspect Gen Y has little to do with either).

One of the commentators bases his conclusions on negative experiences, over 6 years, with 25 law students and lawyers who would qualify as generation Y.

Now, I'm not questioning whether your perception of some kind of generational problem, or that of some of the commentators, is genuine. I'm sure it is. But it is a very long walk from anecdotal, personal observations to generalizations about all those born after 1977 (Generation Y). Neither Twenge's work nor the very limited personal observations described in the comments get us very far along that journey.

When one hears a perennial complaint (these younger generations have no work ethic, know nothing about sacrifice, etc.), repeated down through the decades, in conjunction with no substantial empirical evidence to support it, I am strongly inclined towards skepticism.

Jordan Furlong

A few thoughts:

1. Generation Y wasn't raised by wolves. They were raised by Boomer parents and Gen-X older siblings. Whatever we think of their attitudes and standards, we don't have to look very far to figure out who's primarily responsible.

2. As I've said before, work-life balance is an empty and outmoded term, and the sooner we move on and leave it behind, the better. Everyone is responsible for the degree of time and effort they want to put into their careers. Where the system fails us is with law schools that systematically overcharge and underprepare graduates and leave them with no option but to seek high-paying, high-billing big firm jobs. But the system's failure doesn't make "work-life balance" any less a distracting caricature.

3. The foregoing debate revolves in circles because we don't have anything like a consensus on what "client service" means. I doubt that anyone here really thinks it means 24/7 servitude to client whims. Nor, I hope, does anyone think it means client service on terms that serve the comfort and convenience of the lawyer alone.

I don't think we really disagree that lawyers exist (in professional terms) to serve their clients' interests and are bound to do their best in that regard. Where we perhaps disagree is on the extent to which the client has the exclusive right to our time and to our really hard work on their behalf. I think this is a subject on which reasonable lawyers can disagree. But I don't think it's going to end up as lawyers' call -- just like in every other aspect of the lawyer-client relationship, the client is gaining the upper hand and is in a growing position to dictate the relationship's terms (as lawyers long have done). So the debate threatens to be not just circular, but also moot.

I'm a strong proponent of client-focused law firms, lawyer attitudes and legal processes -- my sympathies lie firmly on the client side. But one of the most pernicious attitudes in capitalist society is that the customer is always right. The customer is not always right, and nor is the client. Elihu Root famously noted that "about half the practice of a decent lawyer consists of telling would-be clients that they are damned fools and should stop." Client service does not mean client accession, and that applies to demands made not just of the legal system, but also of the lawyer. If we need a definition of "client service," we could do a lot worse than starting with "really hard work for just ends." Beyond that, it's every lawyer's individual decision -- for the moment, anyway.

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