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Great Expectations: Millennial Lawyers and the Structures of Contemporary Legal Practice

Francis, Andrew and Bleasdale, Lydia (2020) Great Expectations: Millennial Lawyers and the Structures of Contemporary Legal Practice. Legal Studies. ISSN 0261-3875 (In Press)

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Abstract

This paper presents the findings of the first empirical study of the experiences of young lawyers who have entered an increasingly uncertain profession following a highly competitive education and recruitment process. These ‘Millennial lawyers’ are framed by a narrative of ‘difference.’ This ‘difference’ is commonly articulated negatively and as a challenge to organisational and professional norms. However, our findings suggest a more complex reality. In its synthesis of work on structure and agency, with the temporal focus required by generational sociology, this paper advances an original approach to the analysis of organisational and professional change within contemporary legal practice. Drawing on new empirical research, it demonstrates that although our sample shares many field-level expectations, there is also considerable stress, unhappiness and discomfort. This is generated by a complex interaction between their expectations of practice, and the structuring properties of the field. Thus, the capacity for organisational and professional change is more comprehensively understood within a temporal frame. This paper challenges academic and professional paradigms of generational change within the legal field. It concludes with recommendations for legal educators and the profession which foreground the complexity of Millennial lawyers’ expectations of practice.

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