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March 01, 2010

Our "New White Trash": Who Cares What Makes Generation Y Tick?

You cannot short-cut or dumb down the process of becoming a quality professional who serves clients, patients, customers or buyers. You can't Google it. You can't fake it. If you don't want to learn how to do your work, consider: (i) volunteer work with street people, mental patients, addicts, special children, Boomer-era acid casualties, or animals, (ii) retail, (iii) consulting, and (iv) full-time blogging. The short post below originally appeared on May 20, 2008:

From a marketing e-mail I received today:

Are you frustrated by young workers who feel entitled to success, need constant praise, want everything to be 'their way'? Are you struggling to attract and retain a generation of workers whose commitment seems more temporary than permanent?

This is Generation Y, a workforce of as many as 70 million, and the first wave is just now taking their place in an increasingly multigenerational workplace.

In this 1-day seminar, we'll show you how to motivate and manage Generation Y. You'll learn what makes them tick, how to retain them, and make them productive and energized.

It's your problem, Gen-X and Gen-Y. Not ours. Work, figure it out, ask questions, and we'll help you--but it's your job to adjust to "us" and the often hard adventure of learning to solve problems for your employer and its clients.

Posted by Holden Oliver (Kitzbühel Desk) at March 1, 2010 11:59 PM


The marketing email should be your hint that perhaps generational generalizations like the one you repeatedly propagate on this blog have almost as much validity as that unique opportunity you have to help that fellow overseas regain some of his money.

On a blog that supposedly champions attention to detail and individuals, the notes you're hitting here are at best out of harmony.

Reading between the lines, my take is that someone at your firm simply has problems attracting and retaining new lawyers. My advice is to spend more time addressing the problem, and less time generating rather silly generalizations about very large and diverse groups of people to explain your difficulty.

Of course, perhaps this is simply a ploy to generate site traffic, in which case the joke is on me for becoming annoyed and taking the time to write you this message.

Posted by: John Heur at March 2, 2010 07:53 PM

Thanks for your comment, John.

We are full of ploys and playfulness at this blog; it's not for everyone. But we are serious about a few things. Hopefully, the blog is about quality and high standards. At least, we try not to celebrate mediocrity here. We'll stick by our generalizations. You might look at some of our other blog posts--and maybe visit Scott Greenfield's great Simple Justice. http://blog.simplejustice.us/ He's pretty fed up, too. We've done our homework on this issue. Have you? Have the consultants?

John, you got me in a good mood.

You like to speculate. I don't. Since you like that sort of thing, I will here. I'm fairly sure that you (a) are not a business or corporate lawyer (that's our readership) with responsibility for clients and employees or (b) otherwise have more than a 9-to-5 job or one that is taxing in the least. My guess is that you teach or consult. But if you are in some sort of business, I would wager that you--as a manager, partner or business owner--have a history of keeping "bad" or mediocre people, and might not even know it. A lot of people do that. It's a mistake to avoid--far worse than being a "mean" employer.

Learning how to be a lawyer is hard. No shortcuts. You can't "Google" it. And employer-employee relationships--with expensive new grads who don't know anything yet and can add no value--should not be a "negotiation". This is a business. Consultants on the issue? I've yet to meet one on the Slackoisie issue who knows about what lawyers do for demanding higher-end clients. Finally, in any generation, there are always driven people who value hard work on hard problems for customers, clients, and buyers. Just way fewer of them in this batch. Maybe it's this simple: Gen Y is simply not a very ambitious group. "Work"--and work is all we are talking about here--is not a very big deal to them. To me, that is 100% clear. But we'll find some exceptions, I am sure.

Posted by: Dan Hull at March 2, 2010 08:41 PM

[PB: Because it's "you", and this is "your issue", and Greenfield always wants to feed you chicken soup, we'll publish you today...you get a Club Ned pass for the day....but just this one last time. We do have a policy against blogging in a name other than your own. So time for you to come out, OK? We think you have the sand. Start a blog. Something. We do admire your rare style of existential dread. HO]


I'll bite.

If generation y follows in your footsteps in short order we will be eating shoe soup in a Stienbeckian dystopia. We are half-way there.

Hate on the kids all your want, but they (we) didn't turn an industrial and agricultural behemoth into smoldering wreckage. That was you guys. But hey, you did get a Viking range (it is dual-fuel, dual-fuel!).

The best thing your generation could do for ours is sew yourself in a burlap sack and make sure you make it to the curb for large pick up day.

Posted by: Patrick Bateman at March 2, 2010 09:52 PM

So we've consultants, teachers, and academics in the generalization mix now too. The consultants I know work, easily, 60-70 hour weeks, so you must have a different subset in mind. Academia is about as competitive an industry as one can find. The best teachers are also great managers and hard workers; and ironically Aristotle and Plato, both described so glowingly (appropriately) on this blog, were teachers.

No one has questioned whether being a lawyer is hard work. Of course it is. No one has questioned whether a law firm is a business. Of course it is. No one has questioned what is required to run a business profitably. There are a small number of people who were able to google profits, and they now own a company by that name.

I've questioned the stridently negative generalizations of "Gen Y," nothing else.

There are many talented young people with ample work ethic. If you've found otherwise, then there is either a problem with the selection process, or a problem with the training process, or both.

Or, if the number of experiences are small enough, it could simply be a run of bad luck conjoined with a normal bias towards the particulars of our own experiences and away from statistics.

But evidence sufficient to make the kinds of claims I read on here about an entire generation of individuals it is not.

Posted by: jfp.heur at March 2, 2010 10:48 PM

John--See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rIPe5akN48 around 3:50 to end....and perhaps see the comments (including Dan's) here: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2010/03/01/are-you-a-member-of-the-gen-y-slackoisie-find-out-here/ ("Are You a Member of the Gen-Y Slackoisie?"). Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts. HO

Posted by: Holden Oliver (Kitzbühel Desk) at March 3, 2010 04:18 AM

In response to John: there are many talented young people with ample work ethic, which is exactly why one should not spend too much time coddling those who lack it. I have found several young lawyers to work with me who understand that our clients deserve our best work effort every day. I have found - and let go - many others who have a far different attitude. That experience does not cause me to stop hiring - it just causes me to be more careful.

Those of us in smaller law firms do not have the time or resources to train young lawyers who lack the drive to serve and succeed. Nor should we re-configure our firms to meet the needs of the average or those who stop working when they believe their work product is "good enough."

Posted by: John Day at March 3, 2010 07:33 AM

I could not say it better than John Day. Like Dan, I've endured every excuse in the book, from blaming everyone around them to whining about how much more difficult life is today to how they are entitled to (fill in the blank). None of it changes the bottom line, they aspire to mediocrity and expect a trophy at the end of the day for just being there.

You don't see it? So what? That this has become a monumental problem is well past question, which is why we received these nonsensical consultant emails to help us old folk to deal with the Slackoisie. Your not seeing doesn't change the fact that its here, its prevalent and its problematic. Frankly, it doesn't say much about your powers of observation or analysis.

While the Patricks of the world continue to hang out in their parent's basement and complain about the misery of their life, there are some who refuse to be part of the Slackoisie. There will be more when the smarter of Gen Y come to the realization that they have to grow up eventually and take responsibility for their own lives.

The trick is to find these few, these proud, these hard-working, rather than learn how to best coddle the Slackoisie.

Posted by: shg at March 3, 2010 09:29 AM

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