Looking for leaders

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These days, young lawyers are often said to be joining firms and immediately expecting exciting work, handsome paycheques, flexible hours and endless compliments. Their attitude, apparently, is that they can bypass all the hard work put in by their elders and head straight for the reward, while bolting to a higher bidder on a moment’s notice. The phrase “entitlement mentality” gets thrown around a lot.

Rather than criticizing their newest recruits, firms might instead try learning to maximize what this generation has to offer: intelligence, creativity, technology skills and, yes, a solid work ethic. Today’s new lawyers are quite willing to put in the hours — but many need a good reason, one more compelling than “increasing firm profits.”

Today’s new lawyers also understand that associates are a fungible commodity in this marketplace. And when these associates read in the newspaper about senior partners switching firms for more money and more “challenges,” is it any wonder they feel inclined to follow suit?

And this brings us to the heart of this generational rift: leadership.  Today’s new lawyers — and their whole generation, incidentally — are starved for leadership. They’re seeking an actual vision for what a lawyer and a law firm could be, and they will respond enthusiastically to the keynotes of leadership: mentoring, coaching, feedback, vision, and a sense of higher purpose.

If a law firm chose to truly prize leadership, and dedicated the resources to prove it, that firm would have its choice of the very best and brightest young lawyers. It would have to turn them away at the door.

This post originally appeared as the editorial in the October/November 2005 issue of National magazine.

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