After over 15 years working in the legal field, including paying my dues in metro Detroit during a global recession beginning soon after I graduated from Wayne State Law, I no longer feel like a “young” attorney. As Rutger Hauer said in 1982’s Blade Runner, the year I was born, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” Nonetheless, I still qualify as a millennial or NextGen attorney, part of a group around 40 years old and under who will constitute a majority of practicing attorneys within five years.
While this rising generation of legal talent is sometimes derided as the “participation trophy age bracket,” that characterization could not be further from the truth. We are hard-working, entrepreneurial, care about clients and justice, and are committed to changing the legal profession for the better in ways that should make “more experienced” generations of the bench and bar proud.
True Grit and Diverse Experience
Finding a job, learning how to be a competent lawyer, and carving out a practice is hard enough, but fledgling lawyers who also successfully weathered Detroit’s hard financial times and the ongoing “rebuilding years” are survivors, who possess significant adaptability, grit, intelligence, and perseverance.
As Henry Kissinger said, “A diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure.” Many of us have become generalists or experts in multiple areas of law after having to focus on unexpected or new areas of law in order to find a job or expand our potential clientele and earnings.
In business matters, which often involve the intersection of corporate, real estate, employment, and intellectual property law, with required knowledge of litigation, insurance, and tax implications, many NextGen attorneys have accumulated diverse experiences, allowing us to understand the bigger picture as well as the details.
This broad experience permits us to serve as key players on any business client’s team.
Accessibility, Technology and Cost
Nearly all the attorneys of my vintage are always connected, even (and especially) if we’re not sitting at our desks. Clients and colleagues rest easier knowing that we’re “on it,” and we can reassure them of that at lightning speed.
Our understanding of ways to utilize technology to assist in the practice of law is frankly unparalleled in legal history. We read briefs on smart phones, took enough Lexis and Westlaw tutorials to warrant a PhD, and never need to wait on an assistant to type out a dictation because we’re doing the typing. As a result, our overhead and support staff requirements are much lower, and we often accomplish tasks in less time than was possible in the past, and at a lower price point.
We have countless war stories about obtaining key evidence and blowing cases wide open by utilizing social media savvy and internet sleuthing detective skills.
Improving and Diversifying the Profession
NextGen attorneys respect and revere the important traditions and rich history of the law, but are also committed to evolving the profession in positive ways. As Sir Isaac Newton said well-before the establishment of America’s legal system, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Some of us grew up admiring classic heroes like Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” but were also inspired by the stick-to-itiveness and creativity exhibited by Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde,” and cautioned about following a slippery moral slope for the sake of a bigger paycheck in “The Firm” and “The Devil’s Advocate.”
For those of us who have been around the block, as I’m sure occurs in every generation, we certainly learned firsthand what we never wanted to become by crossing paths with certain “preeminent attorneys” who were not good people. We are committed to being better in our professional and personal lives than the disgraced Michael Cohens of the world.
As we tackle issues such as inclusion, inadequate maternity/paternity leave, focus on the importance of mental health, and put a focus on collegiality and service to the legal and larger community, the lifestyle of lawyers and perception of us outside the profession will benefit.
Ready or Not, We’re Here
As an actual “young” attorney, my attorney father Craig Schwartz always told me that the only way to beat a more experienced attorney was to work 300 percent harder. In my experience, the next generation of attorneys follows that sort of mantra. Combined with our unique skill set and worldview, gained through the reality of the times, both good and bad, NextGen attorneys are a force to be reckoned with, and only at the inception of what will be an outsized impact on the law and legal profession for the foreseeable future.