At a recent seminar for managing attorneys, I spent a good deal of time following the meeting chatting with and listening to the wisdom and opinions of several managing attorneys more seasoned than I. These people, formerly my superiors and bosses, are now my colleagues and peers, and somewhat surprisingly to me, they were asking my opinion and listening to what I had to say as well. Very often, as a young attorney, I had assumed that the “old guys” had little interest in meeting or listening to me because, well, I am female. (Hmmm, chip on my shoulder?) It had started to rain when I left the meeting, but I walked the half block back to my office without hurrying, with the unsettling, but slightly amused feeling that “I didn’t need to be a man to have the veteran attorneys listen to me…I just needed to be old!”
One attorney voiced his frustration over what he perceived and described as the “entitlement attitude” of the “millennium attorneys.” Of course I asked the obvious question just to be sure I understood correctly, and the attorney explained that he considered the “millennium attorney” to include those who passed the bar in 2000 or later, and truth be told, probably any year after 1998. I didn’t follow up regarding his reasoning or the seemingly arbitrary cut off, as it seemed that he was grouping those attorneys who had been practicing less than ten years into the group of ungrateful, privileged prima donna attorneys. Now, I didn’t say this, because I wanted him to tell me more about his analysis of and experience with the millennium attorneys, but I have a distinct recollection of similar statements bantered about regarding the law school graduates of 1989. And my guess is that if we could poll the managing attorneys of the jazz age, they would report that the youngsters admitted after 1950 or so “just didn’t seem to work as hard or care as much about the profession.”
What interested me about what this gentleman had to say was not necessarily why he was disappointed in his new-ish associates, but rather, why he felt he, or for that matter, I, an estimated fifteen to twenty years his junior, were different in our formative years. As managing attorney at our firm, I wanted to hear, of course, what management methods and philosophies worked. And this next part is a little odd, but having recently spent three weeks in a jury trial with a “millennium attorney,” I felt that, perhaps, the epithet was unjustified, or at least overreaching. But like I said, I wanted to hear more. Maybe, as someone with twenty years of practice under my belt, I could understand both the millennium attorney and the dinosaur. (This is not, in ANY way, meant as an insult – the “dinosaurs” are what the veteran attorneys in the Los Angeles County Bar call their group, and I can’t help but smile every time I see one of their flyers or events.)
It was just as the attorney was relating his experience of young attorneys who were looking for more money, fewer hours, more interesting work, more autonomy, etc., (Honestly, who isn’t?) and as I was preparing a retort in defense of our remarkable, hard working and bright associates, that a concurring opinion emerged from an unexpected source! One of the other attorneys standing in our little group, who was closer to the first speaker’s age than to mine, opined that while he understood the disappointment we all, as managing and supervising attorneys, feel when an attorney leaves the firm for more money, he could not fault the departing attorney. The bottom line is that law school is EXPENSIVE and unless one has been blessed with a very wealthy and generous family, or has been the beneficiary of a rare, “full ride” scholarship inclusive of lodging, books, etc., your new associate is likely to have loan repayment obligations which, unquestionably, make an offer of more money nearly impossible to pass up, notwithstanding that the type of work, challenges or personalities may not be as attractive as those offered in your office. Frankly, I was a bit stunned that this had come the mouth of another member of our small discussion group, of which at forty-five, I was the youngest member.
It is sad, but true. While our millennium colleagues are enjoying being, in general, having more freedom, more energy and more choices than we, there is an inarguable down side to being the young, errand running, discovery answering, loan-repaying new associate. Student loans and living expenses weigh heavily, particularly if this period of time is the first time the attorney has lived “on her own,” renting her own apartment, buying her own car, and balancing her own expenses against her income. And although the associate may know that he or she is getting the best experience, in the most friendly environment with your firm, the offer of a fifty percent pay increase in exchange for sitting in the corner of the library for two years, or for attending three hundred depositions on the same issue but never asking a single question, is likely to appear “worth the sacrifice.” Ah, yes, I remember those times and choices. J If any young attorney were to ask my advice regarding the above described dilemma, I would caution strongly that, in my opinion, quality of life and enjoyment of your work are more important than an extra meal at a restaurant, mini vacation or paying off your loans a year sooner. I understand, however, that not everyone thinks and feels the same, and the options and realities are different for everyone. If taking the highest salary and paying off debt sooner is what one needs for peace of mind, no one can quarrel with that. And I understand that it is not necessarily because the attorney is a greedy, self important diva. These are attorneys; people with challenges, choices and career and life decisions to make, often at a very young age.
When the conversation came back around to me, I explained to my management seminar colleagues what a tremendous asset our MAs can be! I learned to type in the tenth grade, I stopped dictating things years ago, and I can attach and open electronic documents, but I am a dinosaur compared to the millennium attorneys. They all have Facebook or MySpace pages, and they can very quickly research your plaintiff, client, jurors and witnesses – invaluable during trial. Your MA will be able to create an Excel spreadsheet outlining the events of your case, and she will be able to put the thoughts and experience that is currently only in your head into a Powerpoint presentation. I do not mean to condone utilizing your gifted new associate as an audio visual technician, but litigators who can also put these bright ideas into electronic form, or a form that will assist the jury or other audience, most certainly brings something extra to the table. And with a good teacher and some experience, her skills will develop and she will become adept at putting the “whats” and “whys” of litigation and trial to work with her already honed “how to” skills.
No, they don’t know everything, and neither do we. And yes, some of each group gives the impression that they believe they are omniscient. But I would encourage managers who have become discouraged with the millennium attorneys to take a closer look at your MA, and allow a second chance. And if you are a “millennium attorney” reading this, take heart – in twenty to thirty years you will be muttering these same sentiments about the law school graduates of 2030!