As someone born in 1995, I’ve found myself in a generational no man’s land. A few terms have been thrown around labeling those born between 1995 and 2000 as cuspers, zillenials, or born in “the gap.” Are there really significant differences between generations of lawyers, in terms of their professional and personal goals? Where and how do I fit in? In today’s blog post, I’m diving into how Millennial and Gen Z perceived characteristics are viewed in the context of the legal profession.
According to a Major, Lindsey & Africa survey of over 200 respondents born between 1995 and 2000, Gen Z law students are seeking a balance between a flexible work arrangement while maintaining mentor-relationships and skill development. In addition to a focus on flexibility, many of the Gen Z respondents are interested in a career in government or nonprofit work.
“They wanted to feel the work they’re doing is making an impact,” Bosker LaFebvre said. “They feel personally responsible that they needed to get involved.”Jackie Bokser LeFebvre, managing director of MLA’s New York associate practice group
As a rising 2L interested in environmental law and cleantech, I can relate to the desire of making a positive impact through law. As the world faces widespread inequality, climate change, a healthcare crisis, and more, it’s not surprising that I’ve heard many of my classmates say the same. There also seems to be a greater emphasis on mental health. In the 2021 Deloitte Global Millennial and Gen Z survey, Millennial business leaders indicated a clear focus on well-being and mental health, yet many Millennials and Gen Zs see their employers’ efforts as inadequate.
Not only is there evidentiary support for differences in job preferences, but there may also be a variation in performance and learning styles. Acknowledging the generalizations made in characterizing such a diverse group, Laura P. Graham, Professor of Legal Writing at Wake Forest University School of Law, believes there are several attributes representative of Gen Z law students. These include concerns that technology has caused sleep deprivation, shorter attention spans, and an illusion of multitasking abilities that have hindered our learning processes. Graham also writes that Millennials thrive on group work, while Gen Z prefers to work alone.
“[w]hen students work on long projects such as research papers; they may spend many hours looking for sources and reading… when they begin the drafting phase, they move through it very quickly, often wrapping it up while the content is still incomplete… [T]hey may have difficulty placing the information they are finding into a larger conceptual framework—a problem that legal research professors say is exacerbated by the prevalence of computer-assisted legal research.”Laura P. Graham, Generation Z Goes to Law School: Teaching and Reaching Law Students in the Post-Millennial Generation
On the other side of the technology effect, us “digital natives” may become an asset as businesses embrace a technology-driven world. A 2019 survey by Dell consulted over 12,000 Gen Z students, 77% of which are willing to be technology mentors to others at work.
So, after digging deeper into all this, I do see myself as filling that gap between Millennials and Gen Z. I’m interested in many of the same things (at least as defined by these studies): a concern for the environment and making a positive impact on the world through law, more flexibility in work-life balance while maintaining those crucial mentoring relationships I need to grow, and a focus on technology to build skills and connect with each other. I’ve certainly also felt the adverse impact of technology and social media on attention span, but I think (at least I hope) that my interest in group work helps with the isolation we can all feel while being virtually plugged in all the time.
Graham’s research is especially concerning for lawyers. Drafting well-organized and well-argued positions and placing information into a larger conceptual framework are crucial skills for success in the legal profession. In this instance, I’m particularly happy to be at BC Law, where a real premium is placed on legal reasoning, research and writing. While it may seem the reputation for many current law students is bleak, hopefully this post can help myself and others to avoid some of the common pitfalls and embrace our strengths as we continue learning and venture into our respective careers.
Fiona Maguire is a rising second-year student at BC Law. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image from Epictop10 used under the Creative Commons 2.0 license.