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VOL. 118 | NO. 84 | Thursday, May 13, 2004

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Young Lawyers on the Move, Firms Say


The Daily News

Call it generational differences, or maybe just a simple desire to be on the move, but young professionals arent staying with just one employer anymore.

The same goes for attorneys, as they seem to always be on the move these days. At least the younger ones, according to professionals in charge of hiring them.

That trend has been going on for quite a while, said Sue Hunter, director of attorney recruitment and development with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC.

Prone to change. Associates and young professionals in most other job sectors arent as loyal to their companies anymore.

It goes back to the characterization of the Generation-X group, Hunter said. Back in the 80s, they saw their parents, who had all this institutional loyalty. Their parents had always been taught if youre loyal to the company, then the company will be loyal to you. And then the 80s hit, and there were massive layoffs. So what they learned from that experience was if youre loyal to the company, the company wont necessarily be loyal to you.

Partner track. The fact that young lawyers arent sticking with one company could have something to do with another possible trend, at least in large, national law firms: a lack of interest in pursuing the partner track.

I think you are seeing more associates looking to other options rather than staying with larger firms and becoming a partner, said James McLaren Jr., member of Armstrong Allen. Although we try to have a balanced life, its still a demanding profession. I think some of the other alternatives are less demanding.

Those alternatives include working for smaller firms, joining nonprofits or working for corporations as in-house counsel.

Some of those decisions are based on schedule and some of them are based, frankly, on the fact that the in-house practice now has very high-quality legal work and very high-quality lawyers, McLaren said. There are more options today for an associate than there were 20 years ago.

Individual choice. Stewart Austin began working as an associate with Glankler Brown following his 1993 graduation from the University of Alabama law school. Austin remained with Glankler Brown, becoming a partner last year.

But he understands why some of his peers have chosen other routes.

Ive lost a lot of good friends who have left, not just at this firm, he said. Some were frustrated because they didnt think they would make partner, some got great opportunities with clients and some just were looking for a change of pace.

The trend in moving from job to job is not uncommon or really new.

I think there is a generational difference, and its not an issue in my view of loyalty, McLaren said. Im 48 years old, and my father worked his entire life as a professor at the University of Tennessee. I grew up with an expectation that I would go somewhere and stay there the rest of my life, and thats common for my contemporaries. If you look at the generation that is coming into law firms today and have in the last five or 10 years, most of their parents held two, three, four, five different jobs, and some, several different careers.

Different dynamic. So the expectation that a lawyer will remain with a firm for many years has diminished.

Thats just not the way they grew up and what their life experience shows them, McLaren said. As a result, its a different dynamic today than it was 15, 20 years ago.

But just because its becoming a more accepted practice doesnt mean the trend is good all the way around.

By the time you have an associate with you for two or three years, youve invested a lot of time and money in training them, and it does hurt to see those associates leave, McLaren said.

Memphis advantages. But there are ways Memphis firms can take advantage of the trend.

In most cases, Hunter said, lawyers eventually tend to settle into a partnership track. After all, theyre a pretty driven bunch.

Law firms in cities such as Memphis offer an advantage over those in larger metropolitan areas such as Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., because so many attorneys are on the lookout these days for jobs in laid-back areas with a high quality of life.

Because (Baker Donelson is) in cities such as Memphis and Nashville and Birmingham, weve been the recipients of some great attorneys who, upon graduation from highly ranked law schools, go to New York City, Washington, D.C., L.A., Atlanta and they go knowing full well they wont be there forever, Hunter said. They just want the experience, and they want the money those major markets pay because a lot of them have huge student loans to repay.

Smaller market. Returning home or seeking areas with cheaper homes and shorter commutes arent the only reasons attorneys are finding their way to Memphis.

Making partner in one of the big New York firms is almost impossible, Hunter said. I believe for a class of 50 first-year associates that come into a New York firm, the odds are that only two will make partner.

Attorneys arent just changing cities, though. Some are moving from firm to firm within the city. But chances are, quality of life is not always the reason.

In Memphis, theres maybe not that much difference between the big firm and the mid-size firm in terms of quality of life, Austin said.


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