Are Boomer Lawyers to Blame?

I admit it, I love that some of the things that used to irk me most about working in law firms — required pantyhose-wearing in the summer chief among them — have finally changed.

I love even more that boomer lawyers might just get some comeuppance from their own kids, Gen Y, aka Millenials.

In case you’ve been ignoring the whole clash-of-generations thing and hoping it would go away, here’s what has happened: Millenials don’t really live to work, which is opposite their boomer parents’ attitude. I would guess that Millenials missed their parents, who were often both toiling away at the office. Millenials are the first generation that has had lives structured around play dates early on, and of which large numbers have gone to daycare.

I have supervised a few Millenials, and I can tell you, the difference in attitudes between them and me, a Gen Xer, is dramatic. Gen X got drilled that we must work hard, and largely accepted that, but wanted more options for doing it. Millenials aren’t so sure that working hard is the ticket to much except heart attacks.

These are all gross generalizations, of course. But consider that in the 1960s, just as boomers were hitting the law firm world, a young lawyer could work 1,600 billable hours and make partner in about 6 years. Now, the same lawyer would have to bill 2,100 hours to make partner in 8 years. We won’t even go into the whole equity/nonequity partnership debate, which didn’t exist in 1960.

So who is profiting from this stark change? Why, the boomer lawyers, who are the equity partners. And who tends to be most resistant to changing law firm culture? Do I have to ask?

If anything is really going to change law firm culture and environments, my money is on the Millenials, if they decide to wait out their parents’ generation.

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