March 03, 2005

Cruisin' in the Firm

by Armen had an article yesterday that I'm sure has been commented on ad nauseam by now, but I figure why stop. In short, the article describes the sentiments of partners at firms regarding Gen Y (born after 1978) associates' lack of enthusiasm towards working their asses off for a chance to make partner. As a child of the '80s, I'd like to discard my horrible sense of style and opine on this.

The first thought that crossed my mind while I read the article was that a firm complaining that younger associates aren't working hard enough is a bit akin to Kathy Lee Gifford complaining that her factories aren't producing as much as they used to. Granted, the observation is probably valid; I'm just not sure there's any moral high ground from which to make the announcement.

I especially love the dissatisfaction expressed by the chairman of MoFo, the same firm that just recently let go a senior associate because they can no longer afford her rate (as such they will hire new, cheaper, junior associates to replace her). I know the person, so it particularly strikes me awkward that I may be hired to replace her and face a similar fate a few years down the road. How's that for dedication? Bottom line, if the firms are concerned with their bottom line, why can't junior associates be the same? Is the loyalty obligation a one way street? Even partners are now starting to see the light.

The second thing running through my head as I read the article was, "well duh." With admissions committees increasingly looking for well-rounded applicants, it comes as no surprise that people my age have a variety of interests. How can someone who worked in a political office not keep abreast of politics? How can the journalist not be tempted to write again?

Does this mean that somehow my generation has a less dedicated work ethic? No, quite the contrary. I think my generation is as dedicated to its employers as any other. We just don't think we should make an exception for firms by dedicating our souls to boot. Is there cynicism involved as the article suggests? Yes, but not because of the dot-com bust or 9/11. The cynicisim is the same found in every generation from ancient times. It's a general cynicism directed at anything that is done for no other reason than "that's how we've always done it." Within the legal profession, our non-conformity even extends to legal education.

I'm unashamedly admitting to every trait that partners now see in junior associates. I will slit my wrists the day a top 500 firm unashamedly admits to exploiting the talents of junior associates. I'm not such an idiot to consider $125,000 a year starting salary to be exploitation in any stretch of the word. And I also understand the argument from a firm's perspective where they are anow getting less for what they pay. My point, as stated above, is that if firms are in fact using junior associates for their gain, why is it so wrong for us to use firms for OUR gain? Again, this is just a reflection of historic changes made BY firms when they began to adopt corporate models for their operations. My generation is returning the favor.

As they used to say, this ain't your daddy's firm anymore.

UPDATE: Over at The Volokh Conspiracy, Prof. Orin Kerr has some thoughts on the article. The comments are actually worth a read.

March 3, 2005 02:06 PM | TrackBack

I'm not convinced it's so different. Sure, there's more lateral movement than there used to be and that has to change the market. But really, is that because individuals are less loyal, or because broader social changes allow gen y lawyers a bunch of options that were not readily available to the older partners? It's always been a business, and no one who has what it takes to get those opportunites (now or then) is likely to miss this point.

Posted by: bob at March 3, 2005 05:23 PM

The road to a successful law practice need not be via the large firm. Many of us learned from a solo practioner and then went out on our own to successful and meaningful careers. So perhaps these associates chaffing at the making partner bit should just strike out on their own. After all, why can't an attorney be an entrepreneur in legal practice? There is a good life outside of the big law firm. Take a risk. Many of us did and are happier for it. If enough associates do this, then perhaps the partners will let more of them join the club. But what is so bad about a lawyer with a Groucho Marx attitude? You Bet Your Life!

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at March 4, 2005 06:35 AM

There has been a very big change in large firm culture.

When the Harvard class of 1970 had their ten year reunion, they had all made partner.

What percentage of the class of 1990 made partner by the ten year reunion?

That changes everything in terms of how much hard work you can expect.

Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) at March 5, 2005 08:24 PM
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