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Millennial Attorneys Look for Quality of Life, Not Billable Hours

published March 20, 2006

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( 147 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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Many young attorneys will answer with a resounding no. For young professionals, the ideal life balances both personal and professional interests. An escalating number of young attorneys are now defining their career goals around the amount of time they have for friends, family, and other personal pursuits.

These new priorities are now creating a gigantic gap between young associates and their older colleagues.

In a recent Oregon State Bar Bulletin report, Clifton Molatore says, "I think our generation is willing to work just as hard, but we're not driven by money. Our priorities are more about family or time to enjoy other activities. I think a lot of male attorneys I work with feel that way too."

"Motivating the Next Generation," a report based on a survey conducted by Edge International, reveals that 25- to 30-year-olds working in law firms ranked "time for personal life" as their first priority. Other motivators, from most to least important, are as follows: opportunities for advancement, professional growth, achievement, intrinsic nature of work, security, leadership, and being a member of a team.

The results show that young associates care about career advancement, but not enough to sacrifice their personal lives.

In her scathingly blunt blog, Opinionistas, former Manhattan associate Melissa Lafsky expresses the "existential disappointment" of being a lawyer. In one entry, Lafsky reminisces about the disheartening grilling she endured during her first law firm performance evaluation as a young, innocent summer associate.

She resents that her work's social events dominate her personal life. She sarcastically recalls how she was remonstrated for skipping out on the "endless boring dinners and cheesy Broadway shows" in order to do "outrageous things like spend time with my boyfriend."

She criticizes the power structure and its stuffy code of conducts, saying that a partner complained about how she did "not demonstrate sufficient appreciation for the hierarchy."

Lafsky lashes back in her blog by writing, "Let's cut the crap. What you're saying here is that I haven't kissed enough rotund, hairy partner [behind] this summer, and you're punishing me for it."

For many younger lawyers such as Lafsky, a lawyer's lifestyle clashes with their priorities. They do not want to maintain the image of professionalism.

Younger attorneys want flexibility when it comes to their work schedules and networking responsibilities. To them, rigid and stuffy law firms are a huge disappointment.

In "On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession," University of St. Thomas law professor Patrick J. Schiltz directly addresses the disappointments of young attorneys. He states that a significant portion of lawyers suffer from depression, anxiety, stress, and career dissatisfaction. Because of this, young attorneys have to "get their priorities straight, and they have to stop seeing workaholism as a badge of honor."

Although many young attorneys work long hours at large firms, they do so in order to pay off their student debts, gain experience, and increase their marketability. However, unlike older attorneys, who may have worked 30 to 40 years at the same firm, younger attorneys are more open to change. If they are dissatisfied, they will move on.

Carolyn Martin, co-author of Managing Generation Y, speaks about how the dot-com failure and Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks bred cynicism in the younger generation.

When describing the Generation Y mentality, she said, "I've looked at the world, and there's no such thing as job security."

She notes that, as a result, younger attorneys have lost their long-term loyalty towards their employers. There has been a backlash towards meaningless work and corporate institutions.

For many younger associates, large law firms are simply stepping-stones to working at smaller firms, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies.

Generation Y's disappointment and cynicism have hindered this group from making strong connections with institutions. Young attorneys have severed themselves from the old ways and have critically sought out a more balanced lifestyle through new work ethics.

Young attorneys also have a great source of volunteer energy. Christine Meadows, the division chair at Jordan Schrader, says in the Bulletin article, "[Young attorneys] want to be much more directly involved in service, so they would rather work directly with a family in need than serve on a board that helps families in need."

They also want to participate in projects and see immediate results. Instead of spending a lot of time meeting about projects, they want to spend their time in more productive and valuable ways.

The new generation of attorneys has a greater desire to interact with people who are culturally diverse. Paul Burton, a professional development consultant for other law firms, says in the Bulletin article, "[Young lawyers] are the most culturally diverse group ever… Their global viewpoint is much broader because they grew up with the Internet."

Many large law firms are beginning to acknowledge this shift in work styles. Law firms realize that they have to make significant changes to accommodate to younger associates.

Firms are addressing this movement by offering more formalized professional development programs. These programs include mentoring opportunities, in-house CLE courses, and business training workshops. Firms hope that by offering a range of opportunities and training exercises, younger attorneys will cultivate the makings of new leaders.

Loree Devery, Tonkin Torp's manager of attorney recruiting and professional development, asserts in the Bulletin report, "We really try to teach what it means to be a lawyer and how to grow as a lawyer by creating success and satisfaction in your career."

Law firms are taking more active measures to bridge the generational gap by providing opportunities for mentorship, collaboration, and innovative ways to balance personal and professional interests.

published March 20, 2006

( 147 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.