Ken Shepherd, the principal of Shepherd Legal, responds to NSW Young Lawyers president Thomas Spohr's assertion last week that older lawyers are diminishing their Gen Y colleagues:
As a Baby Boomer, I read with particular interest the article by Thomas Spohr entitled "A dangerous game: How older lawyers diminish their Gen Y colleagues"
When I was starting out in the legal professional in the early 1970s, I and many of my contemporaries were treated in exactly the same way as discussed in Mr Spohr's article.
It was almost a daily occurrence and some of it in far more colourful terms and forceful in manner than Mr Spohr's has recounted. When I was an articled clerk, my master solicitor once told me that that such behaviour was also very common when he was a young lawyer in the early 1900s.
There are some massive egos in all professions and walks of life and they are often difficult to deal with and the legal profession certainly has its fair share.
There will always be some in any generation who are condescending out of the fear of growing older and being thrown on the scrap heap, or, out of fear of being 'shown-up' by younger colleagues who are smarter, better qualified or more energetic (consider that 30 years experience might only be 2 years experience repeated 15 times), or, for tactical advantage to unsettle their opponent (called 'sledging' in the sporting world), or, simply just out of sheer meanness of spirit to get pleasure from the discomfort of others.
So what are we really talking about here? I say "human nature", not any specific bias by older lawyers against Gen Y lawyers. I also say that this type of behaviour, which has a distinct element of bullying and intimidation, has been with us as long as we have had any form of society.
While many in older generations celebrate the younger generations and take pride in their achievements, some will always be overly critical and view the younger generations as being lazier and less able than their own.
Consider that around 2,080 years ago, the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, is reported to have said: "Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers".
Consider also ability of the current younger generations to so easily and widely communicate their thoughts, feelings and experiences in a manner unprecedented in human history, thanks to the relatively recent explosion in the internet and social media, smart 'phones and tablets. To an extent, past younger generations have had no voice and now they do.
So to Gen Y lawyers I say, it's not about you specifically. I suspect, although I will not be here to see it, that the time will come when as Gen Y becomes the older generation, similar criticisms will made against them by the then younger generation. Certainly that is true for my generation.
I should say at this point that I do not condone the types of comments about which Mr Spohr writes. In my opinion, they are unhelpful, disrespectful, unprofessional and reflect a weakness of character in those who feel the need to make them.
However, I suggest that it is not helpful to dwell on them overmuch either because such comments simply reflect the human condition, like the pushy person in a queue or the loudmouth in a restaurant.
Of course, as with all things, the issue cuts both ways. On quite a few occasions, I have been told by younger people that I am either a dinosaur and need to move out of the way to let them have their chance, or, that I am not suitable for this or that job because I am just too old (I have been told that outright several times) and they are looking for a 'young dynamic team', or, that I would not be a good fit in a younger office.
Many in my generation have had extremely difficulty finding work after being made redundant because they are considered too old to have value. I don't blame all Gen Xers or Gen Yers for the short sighted comments and actions of a few.
So, I suggest that this issue is really less about Gen Y and the older generation and more about human nature. It's just a matter of perspective.
Ken Shepherd is the principal at Shepherd Legal, Solicitors in Sydney.