Traversing The Generation Gap Between You And Those Who Will (Or Will Not!) Hire You
One of the biggest challenges facing new attorneys and law school students is the generation gap.
Most of you are in your 20s. Many of you have never worked in a law firm, legal department, or other formal office setting. Maybe you’ve never even applied for such a job. Maybe you don’t even know how to look for such a job.
No matter how many friends you might have, no matter how popular you might be… to be successful in the workplace, you need to do more than communicate with and relate well to your peers. You also need to communicate with and relate well to the other generations in the workplace. Because it’s those generations who control (and influence) the hiring process, who control (and influence) the workplace environments, and who control (and influence) your professional development.
After all, so early in your career, your peers are least likely to control hiring or influence career development. The people who control hiring and career influence development are people significantly older than you are—people who are 35, 45, 55, 65, or older. These are people with years or decades of experience. Not just experience in the technical practice of law. But also experience in working in hierarchical office settings, growing and managing client relationships, thinking both in-depth and on-their-feet, and more. They have expectations and standards for dress, grooming, speech patterns, behavior, body language, and other codes of conduct, business and social etiquette, and methods of communication.
Things that are obvious and acceptable to you may not be obvious or acceptable to those older than you. And, of course, the reverse is also true. But hiring attorneys and people in a position to influence your career generally aren’t interest in learning about or complying with your standards; they expect you to know and to comply with theirs. This isn’t just generational conceit, so don’t be tempted to dismiss it that way. Yes, sometimes it’s just a matter of tradition. More often though, businesses and businesspeople have very practical reasons for the way they do things, and as a new attorney or law school student those practical reasons may not be clear to you yet.
Even so, when you are evaluated for opportunities, one criteria you are judged on is your ability to fit in with corporate culture. Hiring attorneys are very concerned about how you will interact with senior partners, or associates, paralegals, staff, and others at the office. Will you fit in smoothly, or be disruptive inadvertently?
Remember employers are hiring you to do technical work, but also to represent them. Do you know how to handle yourself at court? Visiting billion-dollar clients, or families in the midst of divorce? Do you know how to interact with adversaries? Will you represent the employer well, using proper business etiquette in all communications—in person meetings, telephone, email, and more?
The more you understand—and comply—with the expectations of these hiring attorneys, the more successful you will be in the job search and career development processes. How To Get A Legal Job helps you do just that.
Return to Essential Reading index.