Culture wars

Every year, thousands of lawyers in their 20s enter the legal profession, while thousands more in their 60s leave it. In the result, we’re seeing a mass-scale infusion of new value systems into the legal profession — and the old and new systems usually mix like oil and water. The clearest value clash is revolving around how much of your life should be dedicated to your job, rather than to you and your family. Most new lawyers say: not that much.

Demographers argue over why this new generation cares more about spending time at home or with family than it does about professional advancement. But I can tell you this much: most new lawyers don’t really give a damn about law firms’ billable-hour targets.

And there’s the problem. Today’s legal culture (including the typical law firm compensation structure) is mostly ill-equipped to deal with this sea change. Boomer values — including devotion to the job, financial security and social status — have shaped the modern legal profession. But the profession’s newest members value self-fulfillment, job satisfaction, and family priorities more than they value overtime bonuses. This “problem” (as most firms still refer to it) is only going to get worse.

Time was, young lawyers shaped their family planning around their careers. These days, they’re shaping their career planning around their families. Law firms and legal employers that fail to recognize this change are in for a very rough ride.

This post originally appeared as the editorial in the June 2005 issue of National magazine.