In conversations with 4 different lawyers, one parenthetically mentioned his hypothesis to provocatively explain why so many newly-minted law school grads struggle to find work as lawyers.
Conceding the obvious of a still slack economy, which has translated as “Gen-Y: No Jobs, Lots of Loans, Grim Future,” and an exacerbating glut of lawyers, he hypothesized that today’s totally wired generation suffers from underdeveloped interpersonal skills.
He contends that the so-called Generation Y or Millennial Generation grew up so umbilically-connected to technology that having also suckled and weaned on it, these young people lack sufficient people skills to successfully market, network and sell themselves. Sure they can do it online but they can’t do it offline when flesh-and-blood, first-hand interactions are required.
Interestingly, two of the four lawyers discussing this hypothesis have more than 30 years experience. The other lawyers are Generation Xers. Nevertheless, all agreed there was something to this hypothesis.
Deficient interpersonal skills?
The Millennials or Generation Y have been broadly defined as those born from 1976 to the 1990’s. As children, many were baptized by technology when ‘helicopter parents’ gave them pagers to keep tabs on them. Then as they got slightly older, they graduated to cell phones and for further entertainment, computers and video games.
In high school and college, they moved on to texting and smart phones. Online social networks? They became the masters of that universe, almost to an addictive fault.
Millennial members of this generation’s law school grads are high-tech adept and multitaskers extraordinaire. Technologically speaking, they can walk and chew gum simultaneously. They can even walk, talk and chew gum all at the same time.
But is this hypothesis too simplistic? Too generalized? Certainly, it’s a harsh indictment.
Why can’t “The Tethered Generation” be techno-savvy, wired and multitasking but also personable, empathetic, and active listeners? In “The Crack-Up,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
Being technologically tethered but taciturn doesn’t mean you can’t possess “a first-rate intelligence.” So I have little doubt there are young lawyers out there who successfully retain their abilities to function. They can text and Twitter and possess warm and sociable people skills.
And yet, this discussion is worth having. After all, there are studies and articles on coaching, working, and motivating Millennials. These are admissions in themselves that the wired generation needs different handling than earlier generations if teachers want to reach them.
For example, writing to help college faculty teach these so-called “Generation Y, The Millennial Generation,” Julie Coates in “Generational Learning Styles” suggests approaches to reach these students who are regarded as having short attention spans and weak interpersonal skills.
Further underscoring that assessment, a study last year suggested that today’s college students are more self-centered, indeed narcissistic. The researchers correlated this self-centeredness to a drop in Millennials’ ability to be empathetic and to relate well with others. See Changes in Dispositional Empathy Over Time in American College Students.
But as for Millennial Generation law school graduates, there’s not much data to go on. See, for example,“Law Practice Today :: Attention Gen Y’s: Understand Generational Differences in the Workplace” and “Generation X and The Millennials: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations.”
But the confrontational question of a generation supposedly deprived of interpersonal skills wouldn’t even have arisen but for a bad job market. When times are good, even the uncivil, the obstreperous and the interpersonally-challenged have jobs. Many even find work in the legal profession.
But it’s one thing to be a solo by choice. It’s quite another to be forced to go solo because you can’t find a law firm job. And in those circumstances, if you can’t walk the talk offline as well as you can online, it’s going to be a long, rock-strewn road ahead.