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Senior lawyers slam ‘entitled’ millennial training contract hopefuls

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49

But they admit that corporate law is a different beast to when they were growing up

Cleary-selfie-crop

With all their fancy brochures and often extravagant recruitment stunts, you’d be forgiven for thinking that City law firms love millennials.

But all may not be as it seems, as a new exploration of the subject has revealed that senior lawyers often grapple with ambivalent feelings towards young would-be lawyers.

A lengthy feature by City law firm partner bible Legal Business (£) describes millennials as a new “breed” of aspiring lawyers, and attributes them with “qualities making it difficult for hierarchy-driven businesses to manage”.

And just what are these “qualities”?

In an open letter penned to a fictitious partner, Legal Business editor-in-chief Alex Novarese reports that this “new generation of associates” is regularly described as “entitled and short term”. Other buzzwords used in the feature include tech-savvy, demanding and narcissistic.

It’s hardly very complimentary, and this new wave of, at best, different and, at worst, undesirable candidates proves quite a sticking point for recruiters. With an unfavourable stereotype planting a seed of doubt in their minds, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the full feature is littered with recruiters and lawyers bashing a whole generation of potential employees.

Maggie Stilwell — managing partner for talent at accountancy firm EY, which has a sizeable legal arm — refers to millennials as “the sticker brigade”. She explains:

They have grown up in an environment where they have been praised and given a sticker for doing well, and this is an expectation.

Reed Smith partner Perry Yam was even more scathing in his attack. He says:

My daughter is at university and they talk now about a work/life balance. I am sure that is healthy [but] I find it a complete anathema.

An anathema, by the way, is something you really, really dislike.

Yam continues:

The CVs are phenomenal. They have all climbed Kilimanjaro, raised £20m and have straight As, which is fantastic. Once they get into the workplace, they do not have that hunger.

Throughout the article, however, there is a growing understanding that millennials aren’t all bad, they’re just very different to the baby boomers and Generation X cohort making up the profession’s top ranks. In a generation that has grown up in a world increasingly dependent on technology, this isn’t all that surprising. There is also an implicit admission that the older generations haven’t been the best custodians of the legal profession.

Indeed, three top corporate lawyers, including Yam, are quoted reflecting on how City law has changed for the worst during their time in the job.

Shearman & Sterling partner Nick Buckworth suggests that “a level of cynicism among partners and maybe a lack of ownership” has contributed to a deteriorating relationship between generations at some big firms. Although he uses different terminology, Milbank’s Mark Stamp echoes Buckworth’s sentiment, when he states:

I do not think that it is cynicism; it is disinterest. Today, partners in larger firms think: ‘That is not my responsibility. That is HR’s responsibility.’ I grew up with a mentor. I suspect that most of us did have mentors — somebody you looked up to, who brought you along and was responsible for your personal development, who looked after you. That does not exist in the same way. It is all to do with the size.

And Yam sums up the changes when he explains:

The reason I chose SJ Berwin was I did the interview. They made a decision, and gave me the job there and then. There were 30 partners in the law firm; it was 15 years old. It was exciting. This point is key. Today, there are so many law firms where very few partners are home-grown talent who can say: ‘This is my firm.’ You are just guns for hire in some sense and there is some cynicism because of that.

So maybe firms’ morale problems are not the fault of the millennials after all. This seems to be what Novarese is hinting at when he advises:

[H]ire bright ones; give them good training; offer decent work they can handle soon enough to push them; provide them with partner mentors; and treat those that do well as valued staff and partners of the future.

It seems like common sense. So why aren’t more firms behaving this way?

49 Comments

AF

“The CVs are phenomenal. They have all climbed Kilimanjaro, raised £20m and have straight As, which is fantastic. Once they get into the workplace, they do not have that hunger.”

This quote really makes me laugh. Law firms complain that there aren’t enough applicants who stand out, yet when they do attempt to stand out more, they’re grumbled about for doing so.

I can understand the complaint that those people may not be hungry enough. However, at the end of the day, people who can typically afford to do all of this have usually got serious financial backing and therefore, may not appreciate that the profession requires hard work.

It doesn’t have anything to do with generations and ages. The problem lies with the individuals backgrounds and how law firms interview applicants. I have known partners who started in the legal profession who started in the 70s and 80s, who are as lazy AF. Equally, I have also known some millennial associates and trainees to be exceptionally hard working.

Swings and roundabouts.

(49)(5)

Anonymous

You don’t stand out for climbing Mount Kilimanjaro though. If anything climbing Mount Kilimanjaro provides a rebuttable presumption that you are a bad bell. I think that’s his point.

(17)(0)

Anonymous

Kilimanjaro is actually very very hard. It takes dedication and a strong mental focus both of which are important for law

(0)(15)

Anonymous

Dickheads. They should be grateful anyone wants to work for them

(50)(6)

Anonymous

The education system is so easy now, the kids are all the same. No wonder the Partners all hate them. Bland bland bland and not bright! They do have a lot of stickers though!

(7)(43)

Tyrion

I think that is absolute rubbish. I went through the education system a decade ago when AAA at school and a 2.1 degree in law was still not too common. I have to say that generally the students today are of a higher academic standard than before. They work for those grades.

However in terms of working in an office, from my experience, there is something missing. And there is also an attitude of “I got all these achievements so I must be special”. Its almost like they don’t realise that they are starting from scratch once they get and have to prove themselves. A partner won’t fall at your feet just because you have a first from Oxbridge, they want to see a new skill set that helps them in their practice.

(32)(2)

Anonymous

Higher educational attainment is mainly due to grade inflation though – there is enough evidence out there to suggest this is the main reason for people achieving higher grades at both school and university. There is little evidence out there to suggest they are actually any brighter.

(8)(5)

Anonymous

Did you really need to patronisingly explain the word “anathema”? Most people will already understand the word and those that do not are capable of looking it up for themselves.

(27)(12)

Anonymous

I scrolled down to make that comment too. I can’t believe that I am being patronised by someone who couldn’t understand what was going on in a court hearing a few weeks ago, and authors articles full of Twitter quotes and Buzzfeed style lists. Shocking.

(20)(8)

LegalRec

Really? STFU you obnoxious twats! Explaining a word is reason for insult? It was done as an addition to the style of writing. An article does not have to be a clinically drafted document. Lighten up or f*ck off back to your doc review.

(22)(19)

Betahomo

Looool u chippy bro?

(7)(6)

Anonymous

It’s a jokey comment. Nothing more. Sheeesh.

(3)(3)

Anonymous

LC explain “anathema” but still write “different to”

(2)(0)

Not Amused

The problem with the word “entitlement” becoming an insult is that it almost always applies to both the person using and the person receiving the insult.

Professional services firms are big fat pyramids with very few at the top earning highly. Those earning highly naturally resent the money they spend on their many employees (only a tiny percentage of whom ever have a shot of earning as well as them).

What young people today are is better educated at a younger age. Less naïve and less deferential. Who made them this way? Why the very people now complaining about how they now behave. Who bought the stickers?

I see a lot of young people and what I see in them is energy, drive and a damn sight more hard work than I was doing at their age. The reality of the economy is that the post recovery from war (it is trite to say ‘post war’ as this country suffered for so long afterwards) period saw unprecedented high wages, access to free education and above all cheap housing. In my mind the young people of today share many characteristics with Victorian or pre-war young people – and it is the economy which has made them so.

It ill becomes the pampered princes of yesteryear to sneer at the hard working youngsters.

(61)(5)

Anonymous

I have to say that I expected you to side with them, NA, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how good a post this is. The fact is that younger lawyers are no longer deferential, as you say, and less willing to work ridiculously long hours for no reason. Firms are starting to realise that if you enforce face time you will lose a lot of good people to firms and in-house roles that don’t.

I never see young lawyers complaining about working long hours when there is lots of work. What I do see is young lawyers complaining about having to sit at your desk with nothing to do because the partner doesn’t want to go home yet. I see young lawyers complaining that their millionaire bosses express views about their associates being paid too much. That after working until 4am to prepare a document that the partner forgot about until the last minute, they don’t even get a thank you. That workplace bullying and excessive office politics are not combated properly.

None of these are universal problems. But where they do exist, millenials are much less willing to accept them than people of the past.

(52)(2)

Magic Circle Associate

From my experience, the sense of entitlement is only really evident in some students when they undertake vac schemes. That is understandable though given that law firms treat vac schemers like rock stars with fancy meals, great accommodation and plenty of senior attention.
Once they actually start as trainees, I think they quickly grasp the culture of the firm and realise that you have to work hard to get anywhere. I don’t detect any sense of entitlement amongst the majority of trainees – I think most are incredibly bright, hard-working and realise that you have to do good work to progress.

(27)(1)

Anonymous

What fancy accommodation?

Most vac-schemers have to use most of their pay to rent a room in uni halls..

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Quite. It’s actually a real pain in the arse – the £250/week or whatever you get barely covers the cost of London accommodation so without the free food and drinks etc loads of people wouldn’t be able to afford to do it at all.

(4)(3)

SullCrom Swagg

Unless you vac schemed for SullCrom like me and got paid £500 a week. U mirin biatch?

(3)(16)

Anonymous

True, but thankfully my firm didn’t get RoF’s Golden Turd this year for being a place where “there isn’t a single aspect of the firm that is properly organised or structured”.

Kuzka's Mother

“An anathema, by the way, is something you really, really dislike.”

THANKS FOR EXPLAINING THAT I HAD NO IDEA

(6)(3)

Anonymous

And why should they not be entitled. The rat race is more competitive for them than it has ever been. The partners only see the side of the coin which affects them, however.

(3)(5)

Anonymous

Precisely because it’s more competitive – there are plenty of other people who would kill for the jobs that these guys have, so swanning in and expecting the moon on a stick is really not acceptable.

And, believe it or not, some of us up the food chain (including the partners above me) still work bloody hard too!

(5)(0)

Anonymous

They didn’t win some prize draw. They were selected because the firm thought they were the best for the job. I’m not advocating arrogance, I’m just saying that the world of obtaining training contracts has become a much bleaker place, and the ones who make it are likely to be more militant about extracting value from the experience once they get it.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

It being a much bleaker place to get a training contract (which I don’t think is strictly true) won’t win a lot of sympathy from those of us who trained in the recession, saw 10% of the lawyers above us made redundant and 30% of our trainee peers not kept on…

I can see an argument that it’s different now from doing your articles in the early 80s, but the idea that the poor little millenials have it much harder than those 5/10 years above them so they should be treated like special little darlings and indulged with someone else doing the boring work at 2am is just rubbish. If the tech savvy little princes and princesses haven’t been able to use the internet to figure out that there might be some boring work and long hours involved in the junior end of the profession then I have no sympathy.

(8)(3)

Anonymous

haha! Hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous

Nobody mentioned special treatment and nobody said that millennials have any issue working hard. Hyperbolising and strawmanning about ‘sympathy’ for ‘poor little millennials’ just makes you look like you have an axe to grind, I’m afraid.

Anonymous

The point is that there are many trainees who think that they are entitled not to have to go through long hours of tedious work. I have seen this through repeated personal experience. It has become more common in trainees over the past 7 years.

It is suggested above that these trainees are entitled to feel entitled (!) by virtue of the fact that they have faced a competitive recruitment environment.

This is rubbish – and a trainee with this attitude deserves no sympathy and should head to a different profession. Which they will probably be doing when they are not kept on – trainees can be forgiven most sins, but no-one wants to keep on someone who thinks that the job is beneath them because they are entitled to better.

Anonymous

Charming. I note that Perry Yam is just about to join Mayer Brown in London. I’ll bet the associates there who will be working for him will be less than delighted by his comments on re work/life balance.

He should definitely feature in Mayer Brown’s graduate recruitment literature, he’s a real charmer.

(13)(0)

Anonymous

And I’m sure his daughter’s childhood really benefitted from his disdain for the work/life balance… douchebag.

(16)(1)

babybarista

I find it hard to stomach when people in the generations before me say my generation has an “entitled” attitude. To compare say the 1980’s with today at the Bar. I would have got free undergraduate education, post graduate education would likely be paid for with scholarships and if not would not have been anywhere near as much as today, I could have literally bought myself a pupillage because you paid for it then and in any event competition was not anywhere near as tough, plus there was no centralised system so to some extent your options were much wider, you were not stuck to 12 applications for centralised system Chambers and generally the system was much easier. Contrast, today, paid for tuition fees at undergraduate level, postgraduate cost me £17,500 and I could only get a loan from one bank for it because no others offered a repayment break needed while studying, debts therefore in the region of £50,000, not many pupillages because Chambers have to pay you meaning competition is harder than getting into Oxbridge for example I have beaten over 2,500 people for a first round interview before to get paid £12,000 in a criminal set and still not got pupillage. In addition, I have been working in law jobs since I was 17 studying A-Level Law and have worked in law every year since then apart from one year during the BPTC. I do not feel entitled I have worked hard to get where I am and I will continue to work hard but a little appreciation that life was easier for some generations before would be nice not insults at whole generations of hard working, young people.

(14)(3)

Anonymous

Paragraphing my dear, paragraphing.

(8)(7)

baby bazzah

This is perhaps why he hasn’t yet been successful at gaining pupillage…

(9)(6)

Anonymous

Bang on.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Does anyone not get what he is saying… would you rather not take his comments as advice than slamming him down?

Show your hunger for law and the firm and not rely on what you think is important ie climbing a mountain ….

(5)(6)

Entitled Millennial

Oh spin me a new one. This just smacks of old fogieism and “Back in my day…” We could all do with a kick up the behind in terms of work ethic, but millenials will be Pensioners in the future. Just because lots of young people aren’t doing vocational training, it doesn’t mean they’re not working hard.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

I’m a 5PQE associate at a US firm having moved from the Magic Circle firm I trained at. I graduated in 2006, so did not benefit from the free undergraduate education etc., etc.

I think that entitled is exactly right to describe the current crop of trainees at my previous employer (they seem to be hungrier here, for some reason). Perhaps every generation of lawyers thinks this about those that follow them, but I noticed a definite shift in the attitude of trainees over the course of my time as a qualified lawyer.

Particular complaints would be:

1) “I didn’t go to university/law school to put together court bundles” – well, no, you didn’t, but I need the bundle and if it’s not done right we’ll irritate the judge and Counsel will look stupid, so do it and do it right. Maybe pay attention to the documents you are putting in there and you might learn something, too.

2) “I’m too busy to take on any work, I’m already working until 6pm” – great, but if everyone else is in until 9pm, maybe you could be a team player and help out too. I’m not staying around because it’s fun, I’d quite like to get home and not have dinner at my desk too, but you pitch in and help out, and maybe then someone else might do the same for you when you’re being shafted.

3) “The secretary/document services/support staff didn’t so what I asked them” – you should have explained it better than, or checked in with them or probably not have delegated it to them in the first place. And you certainly now shouldn’t be hanging them out to dry. I get bollocked when you screw something up because I should have checked it or instructed you better. Same goes down the chain. Oh, and remember that the support staff have been doing their job a lot longer than you’ve been doing yours, and are therefore highly likely to be more useful to me than you are. So pipe down.

(32)(9)

Anonymous

This is good advice. Listen to it.

(9)(3)

Anonymous

“An anathema, by the way, is something you really, really dislike.”

Wew Lad, as a Millennial I am triggered by your assumption that I do not understand the word, nor know its meaning.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Try being the support staff for these idiots.

The words its only a password and sure I trust them come to mind

(4)(1)

C

The home set up is is socially and economically completely different for trainees/juniors as it was for many of (the more senior) Partners in their early years (there are exceptions – I accept that). Most families can’t survive on one income these days and for some “work/life balance” means just getting to do laundry and seeing kids – not delegating all that home stuff to ‘er indoors. Millennials actively engage in home life in a way that a lot of Partners didn’t and still don’t. I work really hard, I’m not willing to give up a home life and seeing kids just because their generation didn’t do it the best way.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

1) That’s not really what he’s saying – it’s not some idea that millenials want to see their families and partners are saying that’s unacceptable. It’s about the broader attitude to work and a trainee’s role in the firm.

2) Most people don’t want to give up entirely on a home life. But don’t be surprised if someone who is willing to put more hours on the clock, other things being equal, is more successful than you. That’s not to say that you can’t work smarter rather than just putting down loads of billable time, but people need to be aware that you can’t work 75% of the hours of your peers and expect 100% of the benefit. The job involves hard work and being available for yours clients. Yes, there should be sensible limits to that, and no-one should ever be expected to put in face time or be in the office for show, but if you don’t understand that you have no chance.

(2)(4)

Anonymous

I don’t think that these partners would be so worried if it were the case that the “entitled” millennials were being shown up by individuals who are “willing to put more hours on the clock” and work a third longer hours. The point that these whiners in the article seem to be making is that by and large the whole class of incoming trainees have this attitude. And if that’s actually true, it’s not trainees who are going to adjust their expectations in the light of market forces, but the firms themselves.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Erm. No. Just, no. Firstly it’s not whole intakes (although there are certain pervasive traits across the cohorts) but more importantly the chippy attitude isn’t just a problem when they are trainees – if they keep the attitude as qualified lawyers (if they are kept on at all) they are hardly going to progress.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

The only “entitlement” I’m seeing here is the expectation by individuals earning several hundreds of thousands of pounds a year that their juniors earning about £40k should routinely be working 12+ hour days unquestioningly and uncomplainingly, full in the knowledge that all top law firms’ business models depend on there being many more lower paid individuals at the bottom of the hierarchy than higher paid ones at the top, so that there is no way that all those trainees’ and NQs’ hard work could ultimately be rewarded in career progression terms.

(14)(1)

Blunt Realist

The reality is the profession has changed incredibly in the past 10 years, even the last 5. When I first became a trainee having a mobile phone was optional, virtually nobody (partners included) had them- work stayed at work. Today there is absolutely no escape. The hours have become progressively worse, you remain constantly on call and holidays inevitably get disturbed by emails.

The problem is partners remember their trainee/associate days when things were different. They don’t really appreciate how life as a junior can be pretty pants . It’s why I frequently hear partners going on about how juniors don’t want to work as hard as they used to “back in the day”- no account is taken of all the time nobody sees them working, be it late in the office or at home over the weekend.

Of course there are some arrogant, nasty vac scheme students and even the odd trainee. But by and large the juniors of today don’t have it easy. The thing they are entitled to in my eyes is more of a life.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

The problem isnt the long working hours and time in the office per se but the culture of law firms and law in general.

Nobody says thank you. Every single thing has to be perfect. Clients treat you like a slave. Partners do what they want when they want and you have to adjust your life to fit in and around them. You have no control over your working life as a junior. After a few years junior lawyers think “f### this” and leave to do something else. The boring unimaginative people stay and become those same partners.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

First time on this. At the bottom of Feb 12 5.07 I clicked on the green thingy thinking there might be some further discussion. I was then assured that someone would look into my comment, complaint or somesuch. I have no comment or complaint, just a wandering clicking finger.

(1)(2)

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