A human resources director once asked me:

What is the single most important attribute you look for in the associates who work with you?

If you are an associate who worked with me, you likely know how I answered the question. I told him:

I want associates who have a burning desire (fire in the belly) to learn, become the best lawyer he or she can become and serve clients.

I have been blessed to have worked with many associates with that single most important attribute. Now, I have the opportunity to coach associates with that attribute, including the lawyers who started working with me this month.

The human resources director wanted me to explain how those lawyers differed from other associates. I told him that some young lawyers view what they have as a “job” rather than a career. I punched a clock in a factory where I worked during college and law school summers. Those young lawyers are still punching a clock. They:

  • Think short term, not long term.
  • Want to work for a firm where in the short term they can get paid the most for the least amount of work.
  • Do not want to learn how to develop business and prefer to just have work handed to them.
  • Limit their non-billable learning to whatever the minimum CLE requirements are.
  • Sometimes “punch out” and go home even when a needed project is not done.

I wonder why some young lawyers view practicing law as a job not a career. I frequently hear it is a generational thing. I don’t think so in part because the very lawyers who say it are in a generation that was criticized when they were young lawyers. I also get to work with highly motivated young lawyers in the same generation.

Did law firms contribute to the “punch clock” worker mentality when they set billable hours requirements? I don’t know the answer. I only know that when I started practicing law no one told me I had to bill a certain number of hours. My focus was on my work, not my hours. I did the work that was given to me and asked for more.