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Lessons senior lawyers can learn from the next generation

Embracing change: as the younger generation makes its mark, it offers valuable lessons in self-awareness and setting boundaries, writes Amanda Little.

user iconAmanda Little 13 May 2024 SME Law
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In law firms around Australia, where tradition often holds sway, a quiet revolution is taking place. The newer generation of lawyers, those freshly inked with their admission, bring with them not just legal knowledge in its infancy but also a unique and somewhat fresh perspective on work/life dynamics that could greatly benefit their more seasoned colleagues.

Although, as senior lawyers and leaders in the field, it is incumbent upon us to share our legal knowledge, impart our skill set and point our newest colleagues towards greater heights than we ever achieved, there should also be some time to sit, reflect and accept that perhaps the juniors coming through the ranks have some wisdom to impart on us – not about practice, but about better life choices.

The Gen Xers and Millennials, who are now at the top of the corporate legal tree, grew up with the adage that if you work hard and apply yourself, you will succeed. But what is success for us? It was financial stability, recognition from our peers, and climbing the corporate ladder. And yet we see so many senior lawyers struggling with the demands of work and life, sacrificing their personal, mental, and physical health for these once glittering beacons of success.


The younger lawyers of today challenge these metrics, suggesting that success also includes maintaining mental health, cultivating personal relationships, and achieving work/life harmony. They teach us that while ambition is valuable, it should not come at the cost of our wellbeing or sense of fulfilment.

The unending quest for balance

Unlike generations past, younger lawyers prioritise work/life balance not as a luxury but as a necessity. The legal profession has long been synonymous with gruelling hours and a “work till you drop” ethos. I recall (as many of you would as well!) the adage – you don’t leave until your boss does – which led to some very unnecessarily long hours in the office as a junior – waiting for the boss to finish for their day.

It was a badge of honour you wore – that you were dedicated to your job and position at the firm and that such acts should receive recognition, congratulations and build loyalty.

However, the younger generation approaches their careers with a different axiom: long hours are not a badge of honour but a sign of inefficiency and potential burnout.

Senior lawyers and legal managers could learn from this shift by recognising that sustainable work practices lead not only to healthier lives but also to sustained high-quality performance.

As a director of a large family law firm with juniors within her office – I experience this daily. However, instead of suggesting poor work ethic, lack of respect or lack of motivation, I am now genuinely asking the questions – am I the one who has to consider my own choices? Do I have it wrong?

The courage to say ‘no’

For the generations that were sold the adage of “work hard”, “do good”, and “say yes” and success will arrive, one of the most profound lessons to be learnt from younger lawyers is their ability to set boundaries by saying “no”.

This isn’t a refusal for refusal’s sake but a thoughtful preservation of quality and personal limits. Young lawyers today are more likely to decline tasks when these stretch beyond their capabilities or threaten to compromise their wellbeing.

This is a stark departure from the fear of rejection or appearing incapable that might plague more experienced lawyers, who often feel compelled to take on more than they can handle, manage a load that is unsustainable or continue to compete in an environment that is unhealthy.

Fearlessness in the face of failure

Today’s newer lawyers also have a notably different relationship with failure. Raised in environments that encouraged experimentation and learning from mistakes, they tend to view setbacks as growth opportunities rather than career definers.

Senior professionals grew up in a generation where failure was not acceptable and that if you did fail, you were to “pick yourself” back up and go again until you achieve a different result – no matter the sacrifice to achieve that result – personal, psychological, or physical sacrifices were expected.

We might find value in this new resilience, moving away from a mindset where failure is seen as a devastating blow to one’s reputation and more as a stepping stone to greater wisdom and experience and that success shouldn’t be at the peril of your own physical, mental, or personal wellbeing.

Self-worth and compassion

The new wave of legal professionals often have a strong sense of their worth, sometimes to a fault. They negotiate assertively for compensation and benefits that align with their perception of their value, a practice that can sometimes seem brash to more traditional lawyers.

Nevertheless, this presents a vital lesson in self-advocacy that many senior lawyers may neglect, particularly in a field that frequently places greater emphasis on the success of the firm over individual achievements. Addressing this issue is also essential to, and connected with, “impostor syndrome” that is widespread among the senior workforces.

Impostor syndrome and self-doubt

Interestingly, younger lawyers seem less burdened by impostor syndrome. This might be attributable to more nurturing educational environments that focus on individual strengths rather than relentless competition.

If you ask your senior colleagues openly about their feelings of imposter syndrome, they will undoubtedly confirm at some point they did, or still do, experience impostor syndrome. This is due to high expectations and pressure we place on ourselves stemming from our generational upbringing, the challenging and highly competitive legal workplace we grew up in, constant comparison with peers and our general drive to be a “perfectionist”, which is at the heart of many lawyers’ psyche.

Senior lawyers might find it enlightening to adopt a similar perspective to junior lawyers, recognising and validating their competencies and achievements instead of perpetually questioning them.

My thoughts

The legal field is steeped in tradition, but it is not immune to the benefits of change. As the younger generation makes its mark, it offers valuable lessons in self-awareness and setting boundaries.

As a director of a large boutique specialist firm and as a senior lawyer, I stand to gain significantly from this infusion of new ideas, perhaps finding a path to not only greater personal satisfaction but also to professional rejuvenation. By embracing these lessons, it is my thought that we, as the legal profession, can ensure its relevance and vitality for generations to come.

Amanda Little is the managing director and chief executive of ALA Law (Amanda Little & Associates).