Generation Y

Keith Lee

There seems to be a general lament among the elder generation of lawyers in regards to the quality of new law school graduates. Simultaneously, there is also a cacophony of complaints from recent law school graduates about the general state of the legal profession and the dissonance between what they felt they should have received from their law school education. See all the assorted “scamblawgs.”

The older generation’s complaint seems to be that Gen Y grads are, well, complaining too much. Gen Y needs to strap on their big-boy (or girl) pants and get on with it.

Gen Y grads seem to be saying they just haven’t been given the opportunity…

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I was in Atlantic City this weekend (shout-out to my Rutgers Law homies), so I missed the fascinating story in the New York Times about the “The Go-Nowhere Generation,” until the ABA Journal brought it up yesterday. In a nutshell, the piece suggests that the terrible economy has broken the already questionable will of the Millennial generation and turned them into risk-averse homebodies. Statistically, this generation of young people is less likely to leave home, leave jobs, or take professional risks.

Does that mean these Millennials are more likely to end up being lawyers? Maybe even more likely to end up as Biglaw lawyers? Because nothing says “risk-averse person willing to hang on to a crappy job for a long time because he can’t think of anything better to do” than “of-counsel” at a major law firm.

In fact, if these statistics are true, we might see a deluge of would-be lawyers continue once the children raised during this economy come of age….

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Over the past few weeks, the ugly truth about the generational gap between those who claim the moniker of “Gen Y lawyer” and, well, everyone else, has been raging through the blogosphere. While younger generations have always looked at their elders as “stupid,” and not worthy of listening to, it has never been as much a part of the legal profession as it is now. The Gen Y cheerleading squad of lawyers and their marketers believe there actually is a “revolution” in the legal profession and that if those who have come before don’t get with it and move their practices to the iPad, they (we) will go the way of the dinosaur.

They also think their elders want them to fail, are scared of them stealing clients, and only offer criticism for these reasons. I hate to break it to you kids, but I want you to succeed, and my clients aren’t hiring you. They’re not hiring your website or your Facebook Fan Page. Really, they’re not…

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I’m thinking again, as I did on Monday, about why lawyers go insane over time.

Years ago (long before MapQuest was even a gleam in its inventor’s eye), an older lawyer sent me directions for driving to his home. It was pretty easy to get from my apartment to his house; I had to make only three or four turns. But the directions were several typed pages long. Why?

Because this guy had been driven insane by mistakes in the past. He had told someone to turn east on a road, and the person had turned west. So now the directions eliminated that possible mistake: “Turn east (that is, turn right as you are proceeding northbound on route 1) at the light.” Someone else had missed the turn. So now the directions eliminated that possible mistake: “If you see a shopping mall followed by a McDonald’s on the right side of the road, then you have gone too far. Turn around, go back to the light, and turn east (that is, left as you are now proceeding southbound on route 1) at the light.” Having experienced all of these mistakes, the older lawyer felt compelled to help me avoid them, which made his driving directions nearly incomprehensible.

What does this have to do with being a lawyer?

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The modern workplace plays host to three generations: the baby boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y. A panel at the InsideCounsel SuperConference this week called the youngest of the bunch, Gen-Why?. The italics are likely meant to indicate a whiny tone, because this bunch, born from 1981 to 2001, are supposedly entitled and snotty. E.g., “You’re going to defer me for a year with a $60,000 stipend? Wah! I hate you!”

I attended the panel as did another legal blogger, Adrian Dayton. Check out his post on what’s wrong with Gen-Y. Despite their complaints about the young’uns, oldies tend to give in to their wishes, judging from the response one general counsel gave to a Gen-Yer who asked to head off to New Zealand for a year and have his job held until he got back.

A not-especially-snotty-or-entitled Gen-Yer was chosen for the panel: Jack Rossi, staff counsel at JetBlue, who scored an in-house offer directly out of law school. He admitted that some of the myths about his generation are true: he does like feedback and wants mentorship (and he’s gotten it in-house). An older baby boomer lawyer in the audience spoke up to say, “I wanted the same things as Jack, but I was not brave enough to ask for it… It was kind of ‘figure out for yourself.’ I think the fact that younger lawyers ask is actually a good thing.”

Honestly, there wasn’t a lot of tension in the room between Gen Y and Boomers, even when J.D. turned PhD panelist, Arin Reeves of The Athens Group, suggested Boomers were at fault for spoiling young folks given the wining-and-dining summer associate experience they created. “If you want to teach that work is the priority, take the events away,” said Reeves.

I think all of our Biglaw readers will agree with us in deeming that terrible advice.

In the room, greater tension seemed to exist between Gen X and Gen Y. “It sounds like we’re saying, ‘How are we going to accommodate an already spoiled generation?’” observed one Gen Xer.

Since I am Gen Y, and Elie is Gen X, we thought this would be an opportune time for a little ATL debate. I’ll let the old man go first…

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