Why Partners Don’t Understand Generation Y

My father grew up on a dairy farm in Wyoming, his parents suffered through two World Wars, the Depression and some pretty intense poverty. Dad worked his tail off his whole life to make sure he would never have to worry about money like his father did. He is part of the baby boomer generation, and like partners at modern law firms- his dedication to his work as a surgeon is uncompromising. His patients always come first, and even though he has been a great father and is one of my best friends- he has made a lot of sacrifices to become one of the finest surgeons in America. The panel at last week’s Superconference entitled “Dealing with Generation Y at Work” really hit home for me.  Here were some of the highlights.

“Generation Y is entitled, lazy, selfish, tech savvy, and incompetent,” is how Scott Greenfield, one of the finest criminal defense attorneys in NY, started off the panel.

“I had a summer associate call me and ask me, ‘So that my girlfriend and I can coordinate our showers in the morning- can I schedule to come in at 9:30 instead of 8:30 to work?'” added the moderator Dan Hull.

This can’t be representative of ALL members of Generation Y? (According to Wikipedia Generation Y represents individuals born somewhere between the early 1980’s and 2000)

Just at this moment the voice of my generation stepped in, “I spent years as an associate, I hit all my metrics- but I didn’t want to become partner.  Its no secret that focusing on making as much money as possible ruined many of these older partners’ personal lives.” said Anthony Zana, he is now Corporate Counsel for Intergraph Corporation- where he left behind the billable hour.

“I’ve seen too many successful partners on their 3rd and 4th marriage- and I did not want that to be me.”  Anthony added.  “Even the ABA reports that depression, suicide, divorce, and alcoholism rates are higher for attorneys that work those types of hours.”

“I think the problem is that they don’t know how to work, our firm has hired 15 attorneys in the last few years from Generation Y, and not one of them is still working for us.” said Dan Hull.

“Flexibility? I built this firm, I’m not going to let Gen Y dictate the terms of their employment.” Scott Greenfield fired back. “Generation Y uses this term life-balance as an excuse for their incompetence.”

Dan agreed, “we have a very clear written policy at our firm, work – life balance is the attorney’s problem, not the firm’s.”

At this point I raised my hand, “If an attorney works 2,000-2,400 billable hours a year, there is not much room left for balance.”

“But the attorney that works over 2,000 hours a years, is going to learn to be a pretty damn good attorney,” Dan added.

And there we have it, the bottom line.  Being an attorney is a tough, demanding profession and many of the partners believe that to be the type of attorney that can zealously serve the client, it requires a total sacrifice- putting the firm first.

“I just don’t see how that can be the reward for all that hard work. You want the best and brightest- those who have worked and sacrificed to prove they are brilliant- and now their reward is a job that requires 70-80 hours a week?” I asked.

“If they don’t want to work hard, they should not become lawyers,” one of the panel members added.  (This went on and on, back and forth, but you get the idea.)

Partners, you don’t understand us.  Let me tell you a little bit about our generation (both X and Y).  We grew up in the suburbs.  We came home from school to empty houses.  You may have heard of us being referred to as the “latch-key” generation.  We had two cars, and in most cases money to buy all the food and clothes we needed. We would have traded it all just to have parents that were around more.  We don’t want to make the same mistakes our parents made.

We are not motivated by money.  At least not as much as our parents were.  The currency we are most interested in is lifestyle.  Some of us are brilliant and hard working, but you have to dangle the right carrot in front of us.

Adrian Dayton is currently finishing the Rainmaker Alert: 5 Secrets of the Rainmaker Revolution- click here for more info.

You can learn more about the superconference from my new  friends like Ed at http://blawgreview.com and Rees at www.lawdepartmentmanagementblog.com


43 Responses to “Why Partners Don’t Understand Generation Y”

  1. Mel Menzies says:

    Great article and very thought provoking. Here’s my take on what you’ve written.

    I’m a baby boomer but, according to your article, am atypical. I’m not interested in earning money – other than to benefit the charities supported by sales of my books. Fortunately, I have a husband who earns a modest income to keep us both, and he supports me wholeheartedly in everything I do – as I do him. We love being able to have time to share our lives and wouldn’t give up our comfortable but unprepossessing lifestyle for all the money in the world.

    As a baby boomer, I’m also part of the sandwich generation. I have elderly parents who require a good deal of support – from me, because my sisters live too far away. We also have twin 4 year old grandchildren. And in order to endorse our daughter’s right / need / desire to teach two days a week and so fulfil her training / creativity / altruism, we care for them on those days.

    Is it hard work? Yes! Are we well paid? No! Do we have a work / life balance? Not sure. But I do know we have more pleasure in a beautiful sunshine than in a new car; in giving my parents a much needed day out than in foreign holidays; in watching the twins play than in going to the theatre.

    Are we self-righteous? Hope not. We believe in live and let live. And we accept that wealth-earners taxes help to make life a better place for all. Thanks for your thoughts. I shall look out for your articles again.

  2. Jason Wilson says:

    Great post. I appreciate the direction both Dan and Scott are coming from on this issue, but I would ask them to step back a moment and think how their businesses might be able to change to accomodate this new generation. For the record, I’m Gen X.

    As an indie law publisher, I’ve got about 27 lawyers that work for me, writing and creating content, and an editorial assistant program of about 20 + law students throughout the year in support roles. In other words, I’ve got a fair number of Gen Y lawyers and future lawyers working for me. When we started this company, we would log 90 to 100 hour work weeks, paying ourselves less money than our fellow lawyers, just to create this business. So, I could easily be bothered by the demands of Gen Y’rs (and do still get annoyed at times). But a couple of my exceptionally intelligent Gen X’rs have figured out how to change our processes to adapt to these individuals (both on a training and review level, total hours worked, and compensation) because–guess what?–they’re not going away. There’s only going to be more of them.

    So carrot or not, the onus is on the partners to figure out the value proposition for Gen Y lawyers. I do believe we’ve got to decide how to make good lawyers out of kids that only want to bill 1,800 hours a year. We just have to be willing to put aside our anger at what we perceive to be their demands to change the businesses we built.

  3. shantel says:

    Could not agree more with your take on Gen Y. I am not lazy in the slightest, and I have ZERO feelings of entitlement!!! I want to work for what I have! I just DON”T want what our parents had! What exactly did it get them?? At this point in America, over 85% of us have less than $100 dollars in our savings accounts… This includes our parents. Age 65 rolls around, and only 2% of them can retire with out outside assistance. And they worked their tails off, missing out on their children’s and families lives! No onder our divorce rate in this country is 70%!! Our family structure is crumbling!

    There must be a better way!!! I refuse to do what my parents did!!!

    In order to NOT be a part of this statistic, you must be willing to think outside the box, and do what others are not willing to do. We want time and money! I believe that is the essence of lifestyle. Being able to raise our own children and still have options in life. Being able to enjoy our spouse and not lead separate lives. Personally, I have decided not to be a part of the statistics. I am willing to step out on my own, swim upstream, inorder to wind up where I want to be and not where everyone else is.

  4. Michael Zicherman says:

    As with the tweets that you sent during the conference, this is a very thought provoking issue. Everything in life is a matter of balancing and the setting of priorities. Certainly not all generation Ys are lazy and don’t want to work, but then again not all law firms have rigid structures and demand 2400 hours per year in billables. If an associate does not want to put in the hours because he or she has home life that they would like to enjoy, I respect that decision, but on the other hand, they can’t expect to be paid a top salary at a top law firm, and quickly move up the firm structure towards partnership. Law firms are businesses and they make money off the associates. The less the asociates work, the less money they make off of that associate. If a 9-5 job is what they are looking for, then maybe try an inhouse counsel position somewhere, instead of being a litigation associate at a white shoe manhattan firm. If you took a job knowing what was expected of you, you have no right to renegotiate the terms of your employment immediately after you start.

    Also, there is something to be said about putting in the long hours. It can help make you a better practicing attorney, since you are spending more time honing your skills and learning in the process. No matter how bright you may be and how hard you worked in law school to get good grades, law school simply does not prepare you for the practice of law, and for that you need to devote the time necessary to learn how to do just that. I’m sure Tiger Woods did not stop spending long hours at the driving range perfecting each and every shot once he started on the pro tour. Hard work and the learning that comes from it is a continuous process.

    However, as for the partners at some of these law firms, the firms should not be viewed as sweat shops. Associates are people, and they do (and should) have lives outside of the office. As such, sometimes accommodations need to be made by the firms, such as by letting the associate start at 9:30 so he and his siginificant other (who propbably also works), can coordinate their shower schedules. At the end of the day, it matters little what time the associate comes in and what time he leaves, so long as he has billed a full day worth of time.

    • admin says:

      You make some great points here. Just like great Doctors need a brutal residency, and I can see the same point being made for associates at law firms. Some of the best and brightest of Generation Y don’t want to be in-house and they don’t want to work 2,000 hours- so they will probably join small boutique firms and be very successful.

      I think the person trying to coordinate a shower schedule was completely out of line- just get up a earlier, right? Reasonable accommodations are one thing, but there is something to be said for putting in your time as a young associate as well.

      One issue I didn’t adress here was the notion of “face time” which was discussed at the Superconference. Generation Y is not ok with coming into work on Saturday mornings just to be seen. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

      Thanks so much for your comment though, I really appreciate it.

  5. Jason Plant says:

    “We would have traded it all just to have parents that were around more”

    I can’t recall where I heard it first or who told me, but the above reminds me of the saying “you never hear anyone on their death bed say I wish I’d spent more time at the office, but….”

    I think Gen X and Y are losing the need to define themselves just by success and money, they would much prefer to work hard when they want doing what they love.

    “our firm has hired 15 attorneys in the last few years from Generation Y, and not one of them is still working for us” – yep and those 15 will be somewhere building a firm with their “terms of their employment” and within a generation they’ll have taken over your firm!

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your comments, I think the firms are starting to realize they don’t hold all the cards anymore. The job market is competitive and if these firms don’t adapt- their competitors will.

  6. @condolaw says:

    Beautiful. Single dad here. Also raised a latch key kid. Attended law school… purposefully chose NOT to practice to raise my daughter.

    Will I over perform!? You betcha. But on my own terms. I did it for myself while building a business that supported my daughter and me prior to her entering school; I’m doing it now for a boss with whom understands my needs and with whom I purposefully negotiated flexible hours, days and expectations.

    The billable hour is moving towards extinction; legal advice is currently a commodity. Both law firms and lawyers will need to find something besides “hard work” to exchange for client’s value.

    Our firm!? Here, we don’t offer advice… we offer solutions.

    ~ Mark

    • admin says:

      We will see what happens with the billable hour, I think it will continue to serve a purpose, but hopefully in a limited fashion.

  7. The thing that bothers me the most about what some of the Baby Boomer panelists said is that they’re not willing to change for Gen Y and their attitudes. I’m Gen X, I founded and run a business, and I work with all four generations that are in the work force today. You have to find ways to motivate and instill work ethic among the generations, not ask them to conform to your way of thinking. It’s terrible leadership, management, and communication to think everyone wants to bill 2,400 hours in a year and that everyone is motivated by the idea of making tons of money and making partner.

  8. Jane says:

    I was born in 1979, so I guess that makes me Gen Y. My dad, certainly a baby boomer, worked as a partner at a series of big law firms–and I never saw him. Even now, I barely know him, though he is quite successful and sends me nice gifts (who cares?). Although I swore I never would, I became a lawyer, too–on the one condition that I would not work like a crazy person, like my dad does. I graduated magna cum laude from an Ivy League college, then did well at a top-15 law school, and am now an associate at a big firm. But I won’t give my life to the firm. I won’t pull all-nighters, and I won’t miss out on my child’s life. If that gets me fired, fine. But I feel I need to draw some lines, since the firm won’t draw them for me. And I hope the rest of my generation does the same. If, as a group, we collectively refuse to be worked like beasts, the industry will have to change. Of course this makes the senior partners angry; what if they have to stop making $5 million a year and settle for $3 million? Boo hoo. If the practice of law continues to be as punishing as it always has been, nobody wins. Except a few rich guys. Why are we worried about them? Let’s demand something better for ourselves and our industry.

  9. Thoughtful post but let me suggest something that I think a few readers (including my traveling co-writer at WAC?, who said he enjoyed meeting you in Chicago) might agree with: (1) For a few years, say, about ten, practice law for demanding and deserving higher-end clients your firm has worked hard to get and keep–in transactions and cases where much is at stake–because you love it and because that’s what you signed up to do; and (2) write (sir, you do write well) about the demands of law practice–and what it takes–after you do that. Lots of boomer-era people (I am 41, but boomers tend to be my role models) are leading great lives. But clients and customers, after family, do come first. No one forces anyone to practice corporate law. But if you do it, you can’t just mail it in. Tough profession. Time intensive. Hard to learn. Most clients do want happy engaged lawyers–and ones who put their heart and soul into it.

    To anyone reading this: choose a career that deeply moves you–one where you can’t wait to start working every day. If law doesn’t move you, step aside. Maybe try something other than law or any professional service industry. Law is not supposed to be easy. It’s ultimately a privilege (not a right) to work at any job–and especially to practice law. Clients and customers in service professions are the main event. They deserve engaged and hard-working problem solvers–not those overly-focused on making life at a provider’s shop “reasonable” for employees. Engaged, competent and organized employees will find a way to be happy outside any firm. Always have and always will.

    Finally, let’s not stifle the energies of truly driven people–with or without W-L balance–who want to shoot for the stars. OK? I doubt that the any new Gen-Y Tom Edison, Steve Jobs, Charlie Chaplin, Michelangelo, Picasso, Flaubert or Marie Curie would care a wit about this discussion, or what we are writing here; they are deadly serious workaholics and like it that way. But you never know. Let’s not send them the wrong message.

  10. admin says:

    Holden, thanks for joining the discussion. I like what you have to say about client service here:

    “But clients and customers, after family, do come first. No one forces anyone to practice corporate law. But if you do it, you can’t just mail it in. Tough profession. Time intensive. Hard to learn. Most clients do want happy engaged lawyers–and ones who put their heart and soul into it.”

    I believe every word of that. It is all about the client. We all want attorneys that are focused, hard working, and skillful. The bigger question that was ignored on the panel, and is being ignored now is:

    Is it possible to be a great lawyer for your clients without working 2000+ hours per year?

    Sounds like as far as Dan, Scott, and yourself are concerned the answer is no. If that is your opinion, you have made a case for it. That isn’t the life many Gen-Y’ers would find acceptable.

    Don’t blame me for discouraging the next Edison. I’m not creating this Gen-Y revolution, I’m just explaining it to you. We grew up watching our parents shoot for the moon while we were left behind. As a result, most Gen-Yers don’t want to be the next Edison- they just want to be good parents, work hard, and live fulfilling lives.

    I’m not asking the firms to change for us, but it would help if they understood us. There are a ton of us, and we will be around for a while.

  11. BigLawBigBiller says:

    As an intermediate GenX/GenY (b. 1978) I think there is more at issue here than “lazy” Gen Y’s and “workaholic” partners/owners/bosses.

    As I see it, young lawyers are faced with daunting prospects for their future careers. Law, as we’ve been told, is an up-or-out industry. What that translates to are less opportunities for Gen Y lawyers. My chances of becoming a partner at my BigLaw shop are extremely grim. And make no mistake, I work hard, I get great reviews, I’m innovative and creative and I do whatever it takes to get the job done. But in the end, there just isn’t room for us all to get to the top.

    20 years ago, when the office I work in had 20 attorneys (it now has 400 or so) associates could make partner in 6 or 7 years of hard work — and that was 6 or 7 years of good, honest, real experience-gaining work. Now the partnership track is closer to 12 to 15 years. And now, 10th year associates get less experience than 3rd years 20 years ago. The fault lies not in us, but in you. Train us the way you were trained. Offer us the work and the experience you were given.

    Modern technology has made it so much harder for us to get away from the office. I get emails 24 hours a day from my “global” firm seeking answers. And god me if I’m asleep at 4am and don’t respond to London’s ‘urgent’ request for the 9am meeting that the partner hasn’t prepared for. I have heard an amazing vacation/20 min per page fax/ tropical island story which tells me that some of you old-timers know what I’m talking about. But even though someone may have been able to catch you at home when you were asleep, could they get you at dinner? At the movies? At your girlfriend’s parent’s partner’s cousin’s bbq? No, they couldn’t. But you don’t hesitate to send me emails and expect responses when I’m at funerals.

    And despite this hard work, the associate compensation : partner compensation ratio is a fraction of what it was 15 years ago. Junior associates today earn $1 for every $25 or $30 earned by partners. When these guys were associates they earned $1 to every $5 or $6 made by the partners.

    If you want people to work as hard as you did when you were young, you need to offer rewards commensurate with that work. I’ll take my reward in hundreds and the keys to the partner lounge.

  12. Boomer says:

    What I find curious is that no one has discussed the fact that the practice of law is a service business — one that is successful only when the firm meets (and exceeds) clients’ expectations in terms of quality of work (which may require long hours to get it right) and timeliness of work (which may mean pulling all-nighters). I’ve been in been a partner in large firms and small firms – sure, partners want to make money from associates, but no one wants to see people pull all-nighters, or work to exhaustion, just to make money. Primarily, I think partners see the demands they put on associates as a function of what’s required to meet client demands and expectations.

  13. admin says:

    You haven’t been following the thread if you think we are ignoring that this is a service business. The point isn’t to slack off at the expense of the client, but to take on fewer clients and spend more time with family and living life.

    All-nighters will still happen, but face time… that’s what really needs to change.

  14. Moneypenny says:

    Apologies all, long comment follows !

    I work in Australia, and the same issues resonate here.

    In my experience working both in-house and in a BigLaw firm, Gen Y lawyers have been as willing to put in the hours and the work as any other generation (including Gen X). What they have not been willing to do is to put in those hours and undertake that work without understanding why it is required and what the end goal is – client service is absolutely appropriate as a reason, as is learning and development, but doing something in an utterly inefficient way is not. And they’re certainly (and, in my view, rightly) not interested in face time for the sake of it. (Quite apart from anything else, a client should only be paying for productive work on their matter, and ‘face time’ is often a proxy for bill padding. Which in my view is a theft from the client.)

    I don’t think either of those latter propositions are unreasonable, and I consider it my obligation as a senior Gen X lawyer to train and explain what it’s all about and why I’m requiring work to be done and to be done in a particular way. I’ve certainly never accepted ‘it’s just the way it is’ or ‘that’s how we’ve always done it’ is a reasonable or appropriate basis for inefficient or illogical work practices, and I don’t quibble with Gen Y when they ask those questions. I further think it’s my obligation to ensure that instructions are given in a way which maximises the efficiency of my junior teams or external counsel – not only is it professional courtesy, it benefits me, since it’s normally far less costly to do so whether in hours spent or costs incurred.

    That said, I agree with Holden and Scott that law is a complex, tough, high pressure occupation that requires time and dedication, and if you don’t want to put in the hours and time, then don’t do it. Considering how client service can be maintained by doing things more efficiently is one thing; assuming you have the right not to pull your weight or do the work because you have other competing interests is another. If you have other priorities in life, make them your priority and accept your choice – don’t suggest anyone forced you into it. And if someone makes it clear that the requirement for making partner is to be able to work and bill more than any other person around, well, nobody can say you weren’t warned. If you don’t want to do that because that’s not how you want to spend your time, then don’t complain when you’re not made partner. Go set up your own firm, go in-house, change careers – take responsibility for the choices you’ve made about the rewards you seek in your life.

    And never, ever, leave your client in the lurch because you have an elsewhere to be.

  15. Jess says:

    I think there’s something to be said for the diversity and well-roundedness that more flexible schedules would allow. When you work hours that would be considered full-time in most professions, you still have time to read, exercise, pursue hobbies, and get adequate sleep. All of these activities are healthy and, I believe, ultimately improve one’s practice of law. In my (albeit brief) experience, clients feel more at ease when they can relate to someone, and having a life outside the law and legal culture makes an attorney much more relatable.

    Also, there are bright and talented people who won’t go into law in the first place because they have no desire to work crazy hours in the name of the bottom line. This is everyone’s loss. In thinking about the future of the legal profession, ask yourself which is better: to bring in young attorneys who are one-dimensional and in it for the money, or to employ attorneys who are there because they want to be, and who bring multifaceted personalities shaped by a variety of interests?


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