Life balance: Our students recognize false promises and are demanding real changes based on a value set.

The millennial worker is an educated consumer armed with details about the global economy. They acquire knowledge that provides factual comparisons of how similar professionals work-life is balanced in other countries versus the many demands of the American lawyer.

In externship classes, students hear about the work life of attorneys in various office settings and explore how their values may merge in the professional world. Even more interesting, the students who gain an international perspective and further enlighten the class. For example, I recently had a student return from an internship in a Sweden.

The student shared:

“I have a desk that can be raised and lowered so I can stand and work. My work phone is an iPhone and there is free lunch here every day! We only work until 4 pm and the attorneys are only required to do 1000 billable hours per year!!! It is all about streamlining and efficiency here.” The student further remarked about the clear message that is sent when a society endorses such a model: We want you to be happy and produce quality work.

As a legal educator, how do you defend the 2100 billable hour or the underfunding and understaffing of government offices? How do we arm our students with grit and resilience for more than the first few years, but a lifetime of sacrifice?

Students interning or externing at law firms or other placements quickly notice the deficient message our American profession endorses. Over and over again, I hear in my classroom students remark about the inadequate time lawyers have to invest in family or pursue individual interests.

So, why are less people deciding to become lawyers? Because, the millennial worker is focused on community values, family, and life balance and our profession continues to pay lip service to such values. The time for reform is now. Reform not just focused on legal education, but the profession as a whole. If we do not readily restructure our value set, work habits, hiring practices, funding sources and curricula, we will lose the next generation of brilliant change makers. Both our profession and society crave such reform, specifically to foster leaders who will pursue justice, uphold government, adhere to the rule of law and build community.

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