Mazyar M. Hedayat
With the Legal Rebels Project, the ABA Journal takes on the daunting task of identifying people who are remaking the practice of law. Those innovations come in the midst of the worst professional crisis in generations. Too often overlooked is who got us into this mess: the Baby Boom generation of attorneys.About the only members of the profession still riding high in the midst of this Great Recession are the Baby Boomers in their 50s and 60s, who made their mark when the getting was good.
By contrast, 40-ish lawyers from Generation X seem to feel largely adrift as the profession swings from one extreme to the other. And many 20-something graduates just wish they had picked an easier path. More than a few of them are working for free to keep their hand in the game, and a growing percentage is leaving the profession altogether due to a dearth of prospects. In short, this may be the profession’s darkest hour.
Since Baby Boomers began entering the profession in the late 1960s, the number of lawyers in the United States has risen consistently. Pay for lawyers at the biggest firms has skyrocketed, but for most attorneys, the profession has become more competitive, less clubby, and far less lucrative. The golden age of being a lawyer in America has past.
Today’s newly-minted lawyers are entering a legal job market that is not just experiencing a downturn, but is in the midst of what many view as a painful, permanent contraction. Lawyers in Generation X – who entered the profession in the 1980s – and those in Generation Y who are entering it today are registering their discontent on blogs, Facebook, websites, and Twitter.
Like it or not, the Boomers threw a party, Gen-Xers showed up just after the keg was tapped out, and the Gen-Yers are on clean up duty.
When they were young lawyers in the late ’60s and early ’70s, Boomers promised a newer, hipper world in which laws would finally catch up with changes in American society. But it turned out that the Boomers did nothing to free our profession from the weight of old ideas.
On the contrary, it appears as in the ’70s the Boomers found out that the only thing better than fighting the establishment was being part of the establishment. And what better way to maintain your cushy job than to cite precedent? What better way to maintain their influence than to condemn rebellious thought as an insult to tradition?
In the 80’s and 90’s, American culture, business, and even government managed to keep pace with the changing times and embrace new ideas and technologies far more readily that the average law firm, which now looks more and more like an anachronism.
Once the proud curators of precedent, lawyers have become the prisoners of it.
And Boomers are showing no signs of giving up their power positions at the top of the profession, despite their advancing age. They will hold onto their positions, as the phrase popular in the 1960s puts it, by any means necessary. Despite riding the profession’s economic peak; dominating the bench and bar for a generation; ruling the lives of law students, associates, and junior partners; deciding what is ethically and even morally acceptable behavior; and virtually costing the entire profession the respect of the public, the Boomers are still not done.
That’s alright. We’ll be here when they are.
Mazyar M. Hedayat, 43, is an attorney with M. Hedayat & Associates and blogs at PracticeHacker. In his free time, Hedayat tries his hand at “Halo 3: ODST” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” with his 10-year old son (who usually wins).