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Are Generation Y Lawyers a Bunch of Slackers?

Over at Idealawg, Stephanie West Allen plays host to a robust debate over whether Generation Y lawyers -- or "millennials," lawyers under 30 -- who seek work/life balance to the exclusion of focusing on client needs are unrealistic slackers or serious professionals with different priorities than previous generations. West Allen set off the discussion with this question:

I continue to ask myself where the client service focus is in this generational wrangling. In fact, that is what I listen for when I hear the discussions. How much is it mentioned? If at all?

Although blogger Scott Greenfield responded with a standalone post, Does the Word "Slackoisie" Offend You? Good, (making his opinion on the issue clear with his title), many others chimed in on the original post's comment section. Dan Hull of What About Clients? claims that most millennials he's hired in his firm have not matched the quality of older lawyers, and that their level of self-involvement makes it difficult for them to put the needs of clients first. Charon QC sides with Greenfield and Hull, though he also acknowledges that work without enjoyment can lead to unhealthy habits.

On the other side of the debate is Susan Cartier Liebel, who believes that West Allen asks the wrong question. She contends that the professional goal of client service and the personal goal of a life well lived aren't mutually exclusive, and that the millennials are an exciting group that will bring change to the profession. Likewise, Alli Gerkman also says that client service and personal life are not incompatible and that younger generations have been brought up to multitask, writing:

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.

As for me, I am still not sure where I fall on this continuum. I can tell you that I cringe when I hear newer solos talking about how working for themselves means that they can dress anyway they want without taking into account a client's expectation of how a lawyer ought to look. At the same time, I've also had terrible experiences with older lawyers whom I've supervised (particularly those retired from a government background) who ignored deadlines and turned out terribly researched work product.

Ultimately, as lawyers, our clients' needs must always come first. If that means handling fewer clients to spend more time with children or getting by on four hours of sleep to finish a brief (both of which I've tried over the years), then that's a decision that Generation Y and all lawyers must make.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 17, 2009 at 05:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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