September 23, 2005
Recently, a law firm contacted me to ask if I had any insight that might help them.
"With what?" I inquired.
"Well," the firm representative explained, "the partners are at a loss to figure out what's going on with the summer associates, and the new associates we've hired. They seem, well, 'different'."
Aah. The Millennials have arrived. I began to dig through recent articles to see if I could come up with an answer.
In "Ready or Not: The Millennials Are Entering the Legal Profession," Abigail Smith, a 2004 graduate of Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law and recent fellow with NALP PSLawNet, describes William Strauss's plenary (of the same title) at the 2005 NALP Annual Education Conference.
William Strauss, an authority on American generations (the man also writes plays, consults, and writes books), offered the audience "practical advice on how best to interact with this group of young adults as they enter the legal profession." Because each generation "rebels against the generation before it ... by working to correct the major mistakes of their immediate predecessors," one ought to expect some attitudinal differences, and some downright conflicts between generational groups.
Mr. Strauss defines and characterizes the GI Generation, the Silent Generation, the Boomer generation (I'm in there, thanks), Generation X, and the Millennials (the focus of the address to NALP). These are folks born after 1981 (that is, many years after the invention of Hacky Sacks, Post-Its, Pong, VCRs and liposuction); they are 24 and younger now. A few of our recent grads are Millennials, and all of our "traditional" (i.e., right out of college) law students are Millennials.
We ought to get to know their generational characteristics, don't you think?
Ms. Smith's report of the address asks, "What will the Millennial law school experience be like?" One of the comparisons Mr. Strauss made in response to this rings true for me. I still tell students that I read, then watched, To Kill a Mockingbird in ninth grade ... Atticus Finch inspired me to be a lawyer (Perry Mason contributed significantly to that decision as well). Millennials admired Ally McBeal. Okay, slight difference.
I surreptitiously passed a few handwritten notes down the aisle in high school or college. Millennials IM. And they did that while they were "chatting" with their buddies across the country, reading e-mail from Mom, and downloading music from wherever.
Of course, not everyone born in 1948 (the year both the frisbee and velcro were invented) is the same as everyone else, but some of the core values, characteristics, and methods are fairly consistent across a wide range of Americans of a particular age. I suppose if you limit your limit your view to American lawyers born in 1948, the band of consistency becomes narrower. So also, our students are quite different as individuals. But aren't you noticing some generational similarities among them?
A legal writing colleague mentioned last week that she noticed that so many of the first-year students who do poorly on the first couple of assignments manifest a remarkable degree of confidence and optimism with no evidence to support their outlook, and an abundance of evidence to the contrary. Many who receive 5 out of 20 points on a writing are buoyed by the fact that they received all 5 of those points ... they must be doing quite well! There's no where to go but up! ("Millennials," Ms. Smith reports, "are optimistic ... and self-affirmed.")
"Ready or not," she reminds us, "their energy and perspectives are about to fill the ranks of law schools and firms." Have you adapted? (djt)
AALS announced this week that the 2006 Annual Conference will take place in Washington, DC. (djt)