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Commentary: Avoiding stereotypes about Generation Y

Just in case you’ve been reading this paper for the last fifteen years and haven’t noticed yet, I’m a total civil procedure dork.

As such, I’m invited, from time to time, to talk about civ pro at CLE programs. A couple weeks ago, having a couple hours to kill after a presentation before the next train left Chicago for Milwaukee, I decided to listen to the speaker who followed me on the program while he talked about how jurors from Generation Y (defined by Wikipedia as those born between 1980 and 1995) differ from older ones.

He was a sharp and informative fellow. By his own admission, doesn’t know a thing about law, but he makes his living as a jury consultant. His talk was about the chasm between the stereotypes and the realities of young people, and how to best get your message across to them as a trial attorney.

I must confess my own personal bias — my opinion of Generation Y is rather high compared to most cats my age. I think that they have very good values and that the things they want from life are good things. When I talk to young people, and recall what disgusting animals we were when we were young, I am impressed by them.

Admittedly, many have shortcomings in their work ethic. But consider the circumstances. When I was a kid, I had paper routes and caddied. I’ve been a busboy, a groundskeeper and a landscaper.

Today, newspapers are delivered by underemployed adults with cars; golfers take carts instead of walking; and immigrants, rather than college students, maintain the country club’s golf course and the shopping mall’s green areas.

When I was young, the minimum wage was peanuts; but you worked hard and you got raises quickly. Today, the minimum wage is a bar to employment, especially for teenagers.

And so the old people blame the young people for having no work ethic and ignore the obvious — they are the ones who created a society in which there is very little opportunity for young people to develop that work ethic.

Anyway, the other night, I watched some television commercials during an ESPN college basketball marathon (Duke sure does look good, don’t you think?). Every commercial I saw during a particular break in the action clearly had young men as its target audience.

Yet in every commercial, every young man was portrayed like a bum. To quote the late, great, Jack Kemp, “Winning is like shaving; if you don’t do it every day, you look like a bum.”

There was one fellow in a car commercial who was supposed to be some kind of prodigy surgeon, but he was too ineffectual to either shave himself or know what kind of car he wanted. In another commercial, some loser with a three-day-stubble told his girlfriend he would sooner let her fall off a cliff rather than lose his bottle of beer.

Needless to say, these corporations have squandered millions of dollars insulting the very audience to which they wanted to appeal.

Granted, you could probably put all the people behind those commercials into a room together, and the collective lot has probably never read a book worth the paper it was printed on. But, they are supposed to be keeping their ears to the ground and staying up on all the latest trends; yet they were grossly malfeasant in making these commercials.

We, on the other hand, are the bookworms. We got where we are in this life based on intellect.

I’m sure that no attorney, faced with an entire jury under the age of 30, would deliberately treat them as ineffectual and useless buffoons, as the advertising community does. Nevertheless, we should still be asking ourselves, “What false stereotypes and misconceptions about them do we harbor?”

6 comments

  1. “When I was young, the minimum wage was peanuts; but you worked hard and you got raises quickly. Today, the minimum wage is a bar to employment, especially for teenagers.” – Please take a look at http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0774473.html and then reconsider both your premise and your conclusion.

  2. The relevant data is not what is the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation between different years, but unemployment rates, which are higher than ever before. There is one and only one cause, and that is an excessive minimum wage that has skewed the market for unskilled labor.

  3. Gen “Y” misconception No. 1 is that they care about the law. They don’t. They care about looks and style but not substance. It’s called being shallow; it’s an attribute of youth coddled from birth compared to their grandparents who had little but cared about social order through the law. Today, that’s old folks stuff.

  4. “There is one and only one cause …” It must be nice to live in a world where there is no complexity, no nuance, no uncertainty. Please forgive me for any distress I may have caused by suggesting that you relocate to a more uncomfortable world closer to reality.

  5. As a “Gen Y” attorney, it is hard for me not to be offended by the blanket stereotypes posted here. I sincerely hope that Mariah is not a practicing a attorney, with these prejudices against (what I am assuming to be) younger persons. I, like many of my colleges, care very much about the law. I care so much, I decided to dedicate my time and money to make a profession out of it. To say otherwise, is to say that Gen “Y” attorneys by default are not professionals.

    One factor to consider is that the investment in legal education continues to skyrocket in proportionately less than the going job market. Thus Gen “Y” attorneys have great financial pressures starting off than any of the generations prior. I know my legal education well exceeded $150k if you combine the costs of not being able to work during 1L and preparation to take state bar examinations (for multistate practice). Thus, to say that we don’t care about the very thing we dedicated our time learning and next 30 years to pay off is to to insinuate that our time and money somehow isn’t as valuable as other peoples.

    With increased law admissions and the growth of non-accredited law schools, the attorneys from Gen “Y” have arguably had to work harder to get and advance in their first jobs than any generation before. I recommend that anyone who doubts the work ethic of Gen “Y” attorneys actually talk to one about what they have sacrificed to pursue a career in law. This is in no way to diminish the accomplishments and sacrifices of non-Gen “Y” attorneys. The practice of law is always challenging and demands hard work from any who pursues it.

  6. Good points, DLL, I was referring to Gen Y non-attorneys. Indeed, this is the first generation in US history to be worse off than its predecessors. The minimum wage is an interesting concept. On one side are people making the minimum wage, on the other attorneys at very large firms who charge between $500 and $1000/hour. Who pays for such outrageous fees? Everybody! Large law firms and others have priced attorney services out of the market. Check out family court any day. Ask yourself why are so many going pro se when so many attorneys are out of work or underemployed?

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