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Networking can help young lawyers absorb the coming recession

It has been a decade since the world experienced what is considered the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Since then, the global economy has been slow to recover, not helped by the 2014 oil crisis, the rise of populist politics and trade wars. There are now warning signs that we are headed towards another recession, as early as next year. Millennials, are you ready?

The millennial generation (roughly born between 1980-1996) have felt (and are probably still feeling) the grunt of the 2008 financial crisis as many of us were just leaving the safety bubble of higher education and were headed into the uncertain job market. Why do millennials matter? In a year or so, this generation will make up over half of the workforce and within a decade, millennials will increase to nearly 75 per cent. In 2017, millennials represented two-thirds of the workforce and nearly 25 per cent of all lawyers were from this generation.

Post 2008, many millennials have struggled to start their chosen careers and have delayed their foray into adulthood. Many blame millennials for this failure on account of them being soft, entitled, lazy and narcissistic. However, I would argue that not only are these characterizations unfounded, but it has a lot to do with external factors. I highly recommend everyone watch this brilliant short video on millennials in the workplace by Simon Sinek, a British-American author, motivational speaker and organizational consultant. Simon discusses how millennials have been negatively impacted by poor parenting, the addiction of social media, the need for instant gratification and the lack of good leadership in corporate environments. In addition to these factors, I believe that the financial crisis has had more of an impact on our careers and career motivations that many would like to admit.

For law students that were fortunate enough to start their legal careers before the financial crisis, these millennials had a general sense of optimism about their future – graduating into a strong economy – and had a head-start on adulthood by starting their ever-essential junior years as a lawyer and having the financial means to move out of their parents’ house. This group could be considered the ‘early career millennials’ group.

The ‘later career millennials’ group captures those law students that were unfortunate enough to launch their careers after 2008. This group tends to have a more pessimistic view on career prospects and had trouble launching into adulthood. Many had to stay at home longer and had trouble securing articling and starting their careers. Later career millennials were met with rejections, expectations of continued rejection and increased competition from a larger pool of highly qualified unemployed candidates.

Motivation-wise, it has been found that early career millennials generally care more about autonomy, wanting the freedom to choose where, when and how they work and also who they work with. Those lawyers in this ‘early career millennial’ group have reached mid-level experience by the time 2008 came around and can draw on their exposure to the healthy amount of deal-flow and work gained from the good times pre-2008 to make such demands.

Lawyers in the ‘later career millennial’ group are generally motivated by money, with their workplace satisfaction more tied to their ability to earn so they can be free to live where they want and pay their bills. This general trend can be seen with other careers as well.

As a member of the ‘later career millennial’ camp, I have found that my outlook on what a proper legal career should look like has become much more flexible and more uncertain than my counterparts in the generation X or baby boomer generation. Through my early experience with incessant rejections from law firms and being told the “it’s not you, it’s the economy” bit, I was forced to explore more unconventional routes to qualification and legal practice. It was actually a blessing in disguise as through my journey to become a lawyer, I now see the benefits of quasi-legal roles, international work experience, an early grasp of personal branding and marketing and the building of a business-development mindset as a junior. Being “unlucky” enough to have been exposed to both the 2008 financial crisis and the 2014 oil crisis, I have found that one task has continued to help me prepare for tough times ahead and have allowed me to weather through career uncertainty, it is through caring for and building my network.

Your network is like your personal board of advisors where you can draw advice and support from. In the best of times, your network can contribute to your value proposition by bringing you clients, being your strongest marketing supporter by spreading your profile around or even introduce you to hidden investment opportunities. In the worst of times, your network can be your safety net by helping you look for work opportunities, providing you with encouragement and tips and providing a safe space for you to commiserate with others in similar situations. The easiest way to build your network is to connect with those that have similar hobbies/characteristics/interests as you, but also be open to meeting people that are outside of your comfort zone. Building a quality network is a numbers game, you will need to filter through many acquaintances just to get to individuals that you generally get along with and wouldn’t be shy to reach out for help from. Develop a relationship with your new contacts by listening to their stories. My focus on storytelling is enjoyable because even though each story is different from the next, there are always overarching themes and experiences that you can relate and empathize with.

Millennials, as we prepare for yet another downturn in the economy, use the fear of rejections and hardships as motivation to recession proof yourself through building your network.