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Law firm colleagues complain that the latest crop of new associates (and summer associates) doesn’t want to work as hard as they did, that today’s law students and new lawyers expect things to be handed to them or to be done for them. To these naysayers, new associates don’t take initiative; they seem unwilling to make the sacrifices that success in the legal field demands. Yet, the first-year JD and JD/MBA students I’ve been meeting this fall once again reminded me of how focused, hard working and upbeat our Gen-Yers tend to be. Northwestern’s emphasis on work experience is undoubtedly responsible in part for our students having these qualities. The resumes our students bring to law school illustrate a staggering range of experiences: from working with disadvantaged children in Teach for America to holding impressive positions at firms like Deloitte & Touche or playing bassoon in a regional symphony orchestra. I’m not only talking about Northwestern law students. Gen-Yer’s attitude in general about their careers and the practice of law is often misunderstood. This was as true at the University of North Carolina and The John Marshall Law School where I worked before coming to Northwestern. I do meet with students who say, “I’d like to work for a big firm, but only for a few years.” This sentiment could be a response to increased student loan debt preventing students from doing “what they really want.” But it seems to stem equally from students’ need for more control over their work lives — an entrepreneurial spirit that emanates from Gen Y-ers. I also see in our students a genuine desire to “make a difference” in the world, however they define that. Yes, Gen-Yers need variety, which can appear at times as an almost pathological fear of routine. But their reluctance to stay with the junior associate life is more complex than not wanting to pay dues at work. That reluctance should not be interpreted as a sense of entitlement. Gen-Yers tend to be more realistic than law students were in the nineties. By the time they get to law school, they have often already worked long, hard hours in stimulating careers where they made decent money. They easily see through the balance of work and partying that constitutes many summer associate programs to the reality of life as a first-year associate. They have no issue with working 12 to 14 hour days. But they generally are not willing to work these hours for the long haul, and the firms-given the pyramidal structure of partnerships, the elimination of non-producing partners and the unforgiving yardstick of profits per partner-do not necessarily want them to. Large firms do want those they consider the best and the brightest to stay. Firms are enticing these students with much of the right stuff: extensive training, one-for-one pro bono hours to billable hours, part-time options and mentoring of all kinds. Like the Gen-Yers, the firms are concerned with the small number of minorities and women in associate and partner ranks. Gen-Yers do not so much need to be entertained, as they need to be challenged. In order to keep talented junior associates, law firms do not need to reduce their billables, though that would be a good idea. They need to reduce the amount of routine work associates do, perhaps by hiring more contract attorneys. The move away from lockstep raises also will indicate to Gen-Yers that their individual and entrepreneurial spirit will be noticed and rewarded. The legal market is booming — the larger firms are building up their presence in many new markets domestically and abroad. In these firms, the sexier practices, such as private equity and venture capital, technology and privacy, lobbying and international arbitration, will attract Gen-Yers. Despite all that the large firms can do, I would not be surprised to see more Gen-Yers end up as solo practitioners down the road or in some business that combines law with some other activity. Obviously, Gen-Yers begin at “tech savvy” and range up in knowledge from there. They depend on our website and online resources for much of their career information. Yet they also respond well to in-person counseling sessions. They are adept at finding information but need guidance on using that information. For the most part, they attend programs (at least as first-year students); they ask good questions; and they come prepared. These are positive traits in both law students and lawyers. With Gen-Y students, law schools may find themselves adding the legal part to already-formed personalities and assisting students with a career shift towards the law. In law school career centers our obligation is often to show these students the steps they need to take to achieve very specific and special dreams. We encourage them to keep their spark of enthusiasm for the law alive. Some advice Tip for Job Searching Over the Holidays: DO IT! Don’t think, “No one is hiring so I’ll just wait ’til the January thaw.” Work those holiday parties! People leave jobs and fill jobs at all times. Since many people do believe the conventional wisdom and drop their searches during the holidays, those who keep seeking (and networking) have a much better shot. And for law students: many employers, both public and private, hire in December and early January. Be sure to contact attorneys, starting with law school and undergrad alumni, before heading home and mention that you will be in town over the winter break and would appreciate the opportunity to meet with them. For both students and alumni, December is a great month to check in with your law school Career Center. We’re here, and while you may find us cleaning out email boxes and cardboard boxes., we are much less busy than during the school year. New Year’s Resolutions for 2007: Attorneys: If I don’t have one already, I will start seeking a job in law or a non-legal field that will increase my happiness and satisfaction. Students: No matter what my GPA is, I will not let it define me or limit what I can do as a lawyer. William Chamberlain is assistant dean, law career strategy and advancement, Northwestern University School of Law.

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