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Common Misconception About Younger Employees

In an otherwise maddening post about his experience with a law school student, Craig Ball makes an interesting “throw away” comment:

We look to the crop of eager young lawyers to be inherently more adept at e-discovery than we who preceded them. After all, they have iPhones.

Craig (who I assume was being facetious), is confusing the comfort level of using technology, with an understanding of technology. They are not the same. Younger attorneys may have an advantage when it comes to using their PC or smartphone to get work done, by virtue of having grown up in a world where this is the norm. Much the same way that older folks used to joke about getting their 9 year old to program the VCR, that doesn’t mean the 9 year old knows how the VCR works. She is just comfortable using the menu to program it because she’s never not had one. Expecting that, because this young girl can program the VCR means that she will, undoubtedly, also understand how video tape gets written to, how the VCR adjusts for different playback speeds, how the broadcast is received by the television, etc. is folly. The ability to use an iPhone has nothing to do with knowing how to create a data-map, a deep understanding of PST files, using hash values to locate duplicate files, an understanding of metadata and forensics, or the hundreds of other things an attorney may run into in the course of an eDiscovery project.

It reminds me of the many organizations who’s use of social media is being directed by a 20 something employee fresh out of college who happens to have 500 friends on Facebook or Twitter, as if that somehow magically qualifies them to direct marketing strategy. It’s simply not the same thing.

Both of these examples bring to mind something else that has bothered me for a long time about the “generational diversity” presentations that I know you’ve all heard over and over, and which was described so well by Manager Tools just last week. In this case, just because an associate is young, doesn’t mean they are better with technology. Some are, and some aren’t. They are individuals, not an composite of the “average” for people their age, or from their culture.

For example,  if you meet another 41 year old, male, white Litigation Support Manager, chances are, they are a lot different than I am, you might want to take notice of that. Heck, they are probably less grumpy, if nothing else!

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  1. Yes, I was indeed being facetious. I couldn’t agree with you more respecting the gaping divide between being comfortable online or using iPhone apps and the ability to plan and execute a competent e-discovery effort. But, I think I am correct in stating the expectations of the bench and bar, even if they are unduly optimistic. or misguided My fear is that my children’s generation will assume that their facility with an interface translates to an understanding of the platform. My hope is that, being steeped in information technology, they won’t be intimidated by same and might not be so caught up in the traditional roles of lawyers that they regard information technology as somebody else’s [menial] responsibility.

    Still, I am troubled by how easy they think it is to excel with little effort. Maybe the dot com billionaires and the trophy for everyone who kicked the ball wasn’t such a good idea after all.

  2. Thanks for the comment Craig. I think your hope and fear are both well placed, and my point about not lumping together a whole generation is why I say it’s both. Some young lawyers are absolutely going to get this stuff, and the fact that they don’t see technology as terrifying is going to help them dig in and learn what they need to know to be effective in ediscovery.

    On the other hand, others will assume that being comfortable using gadgets and computers equals understanding everything they need to know, and those expectations of the bench and bar that you mention, will only fuel the attitude. In a nutshell, if the current legal industry expects younger lawyers to understand technology better, and therefore assume they are also prepared to handle it, just because they’ve grown up with technology, that will contribute to convincing young lawyers that they do, in fact, know enough. However, the truth is, at least in this area, knowing more than your predecessors isn’t enough to truly excel. Not that there aren’t some judges and attorneys who understand technology and have a real talent for managing ediscovery, but as a whole I would have to say that it is still lacking. Bringing in a generation of lawyers who are less lacking might be an improvement, but not nearly the improvement that’s needed!

    Let’s hope that ediscovery leaders of today, and tomorrow, can convince the next generation to work harder at it!

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