A Corporate Lawyer Looks At Today’s Lawyers’ Differing Law Career Expectations
Starbucks corporate counsel director Brittany Johnson discussed the evolving landscape of legal careers and the changing nature of newer generations of lawyers, who have redefined how ‘success’ in their legal careers is measured.
In an article in Bloomberg Law, she wrote that the current generation of early career lawyers is distinct from previous ones, not due to a lack of work ethic but because they define their identity differently, with their primary identity not solely tied to their profession.
Johnson highlights several key points about law career expectations:
- Impact of Past Economic Downturns: The Great Recession and recent pandemic-related layoffs have left a lasting impact on newer lawyers. Many experienced job offers rescinded, deferred start dates, and toxic work environments, leading them to question tying personal value closely to professional status.
- Shifting Career Goals: Partnership in law firms, once attainable within a decade for earlier generations, has become more elusive for newer attorneys. The path to partnership has extended, and many lawyers may never reach equity partnership, causing newer lawyers to seek meaning and purpose beyond traditional career advancement.
- Changing Professional Expectations: Newer lawyers have different expectations regarding professional experiences. They value training and coaching over a “trial by fire” approach and view certain traditional practices, such as long hours and returning to work immediately after childbirth, as indicative of unhealthy workplaces.
- Financial Pressures: Newer lawyers face significant financial pressures, including student debt, housing costs, childcare expenses, and the need to save for their children’s education. As a result, they often explore additional income streams and purposes outside their traditional legal employment.
To bridge the gap between generations and adapt to the changing legal landscape, Johnson suggests:
- Developing Generational Fluency: Legal employers should recognize and understand the diverse needs and values of lawyers from different generations, promoting collaboration and understanding.
- Examining Work Structures: Employers should adapt work structures to align with the expectations of newer lawyers, such as equitable work allocation and mentorship programs.
- Redefining Lawyer Value: Employers should find ways to integrate purpose and flexibility into legal practice while maintaining career advancement and meaningful compensation, potentially reevaluating the traditional billable hour model.
Overall, Johnson calls for a more flexible and adaptable approach in the legal profession to accommodate the evolving aspirations and values of newer generations of lawyers.