Many Gen Y Lawyers Shunning Big Law
I posted on a similar topic not too long ago, but here is the expanded version of my original post as it appeared in the Connecticut Law Tribune.
Many Gen Y Lawyers Shunning Big Law
Connecticut Law Tribune - February 26, 2007
Tectonic plates are shifting and there looks to be an earthquake of seismic proportions coming to shake up "Second Wave" law firms.
A very insightful Dec. 8, 2006, article in USA Today discusses Generation Y — the Echo Boomers — and how they are making a statement to the corporate world which cannot be ignored. Those corporate entities include law firms, particularly the mega-behemoths that are forever growing in size.
Gen Y lawyers, the article proclaimed, have "got the smarts and the confidence to get a job, but increasing numbers of the millennial generation — those in their mid-20s and younger — are deciding corporate America just doesn't fit their needs. So, armed with a hefty dose of optimism, moxie and self-esteem, they are becoming entrepreneurs, or if they've earned their legal degree, solo and small firm practitioners. Young lawyers," it continued, "are realizing they don't have to go to work in suits and ties. They can have a job they like. They can create a job for themselves."
I have been reading startling commentary (not statistically quantified) that more than half of all lawyers in Big Law would just love to pack up and leave. And I've talked to partners of large law firms who have told me "the minute things don't feel right, I've got my exit strategy with other partners and we are ready to set up shop."
Unfortunately, Big Law is slow to adjust to the work-life balance concerns of Generation Y. As the USA Today article noted, "It is a fun-loving generation. They view work as part of life, but they don't live to work the way we were socialized as boomers. There is a real mismatch between what the young generation wants and what employers are offering."
Yes, there is a great divide between what Gen Y wants and what employers are offering, so young people are no longer jumping through hoops to follow the old model of success. Or they are putting a new twist on older professions such as "lawyer as entrepreneur." Solo practitioners are not a new phenomena. But today they are increasing in numbers faster than ever before.
"Workers born since the early 1980s," the article advised, "crave a more collaborative work environment and detest drudgery ... They want a work-life balance, which is often at odds with the values of the corporate world." All those who have defected from Big Law can attest to this reality.
In another recent article, this time in San Francisco Magazine entitled ""Who Says Being A Lawyer Has To Suck?" we learn that "everyone knows the increasingly heartless legal industry is a drone-producing mess ... . You take the best and brightest our country has to offer and subject them to mind-numbing drudgery for all hours of the day, year after year ... ."
"Even as firms throw increasingly outrageous salaries at them, the elite is bailing on, or never even considering, the law firm life," the article declared.
Indeed, partnership no longer holds the allure or prestige it once did. That brass ring has long since tarnished. "You've got a generation that has clearly seen the corporate culture not be loyal to their employees. This generation understands that the burden of taking care of themselves rests with them and not some company," the San Francisco Magazine writer wrote.
This is nothing new under the sun, just rediscovered. Many solos have trekked down this rocky path before Gen Y, twisting their ankles on the obstacles, avoiding tomatoes thrown by the naysayers. The first woman attorney in Connecticut, Mary Hall, was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1882. She was a solo and practiced until her death in 1927. Imagine her obstacles!
It's just now, as a defined group, Gen Y lawyers are marching forward fearlessly. Along the way they are living the life of an attorney on their terms. Until Big Law starts to understand the mentality and personality and drive of Generation Y, it will continually lose on investments in Generation Y lawyers. •
Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. Her blog, Build A Solo Practice, is at susancartierliebel.typepad.com. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2007) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.