It’s only been a year since she left law school, but you wouldn’t know it if you saw her. She flits around the room with ease. Making new acquaintances, fortifying old ones, talking to 30-somethings in high places with the same even eye and steady voice she uses with her contemporaries. No starry eyes. They must find it annoying to be hounded by those at conferences like these.
Little does she know of the struggles of 30-somethings. They have ploughed through years of soul-wrenching personal sacrifice, office politics and tasteless dip-dip tea to get to whatever senior-ish position they now hold. On the one hand, they don’t want to fall prey to too much attention because there are miles between them and the greats. On the other, they crave attention. Because, by unanimous resolution of the world-wide federation of young lawyers there is only one metric of success: visibility. No amount of expertise, money or job-satisfaction can trump ‘the next big thing’ title.
Take for instance this 30-something yawning beside the coffee counter outside the conference hall. He’d rather be making mimosas in his balcony on this spring Saturday morning. Yet here he is, waiting for people to notice him, talk to him, discover his prodigious achievements. It is making him anxious that no one seems interested: the seniors have an elite club of their own, his peers are busy suppressing their own yawns in lonely corners, and the juniors…well, the less said the better.
They have none of the starry-eyed reverence he feels entitled to. Juniors in his day were much more sincere: they had an eagerness to please, to learn from their seniors. Not like the new generation. Raised in the familial and social echo-chamber that each one is profusely special – a snow flake – these kids have no tenacity for discomfort. If a partner works odd-hours or a senior isn’t open to discussion, they just quit and try something else!
Were it ever suggested to him that ‘these kids’ might be better equipped to service a new-age, digitised, specialised, clientele and can’t be faulted for being impatient with the unnecessary hierarchies of the legal profession, he would have dismissed the argument outright. He would have rolled his eyes at the first signs of successful independent practices run by the 25-year-olds. They know nothing like Jon Snow, he would have scoffed; they are bound to fail.
The conference doesn’t muster his attention. He has done what networking he could during the coffee break. As he eyes the closest door to make a discreet exit, the floor opens to questions and one surprisingly well-articulated query surges through the din of ill-informed chatter. He sits straighter to see who it is. Oh! That young girl from the morning. What was her name again?
On his escape from the conference hall, he finds her walking past.
“I liked your question. It was well-researched… well done!”, he says.
“Oh, thank you! Such a big compliment, coming from you. I actually wrote it down beforehand – didn’t want to get nervous and blurt out gibberish”, she smiles at him.
He is impressed. She thought it through, something as simple as a question at a conference.
“Where do you work again?”, he asks.
“This online legal publication…but I am on the lookout”, she hands him her card (again), “I want to get into arbitration”.
“Why don’t you get in touch with me in July for our Delhi office?”, he hands out his card (for the first time). “Let’s see if we can work out an internship”.
“Sure, thank you”, she doesn’t want to sound overwhelmed. She can’t believe this has landed on her lap! Word is that he is the next big thing in arbitration. But they are in April. What if he finds someone else by July? No, no, she can’t take that chance. She must think of something to hold his attention.
“Actually, I was hoping to talk to you as well…”, she steps up to block his egress in a moment of inspiration. “The publication I work for is putting together a reference book on international arbitration. A sort of comprehensive guide for teaching at law schools… if you like, I could put your name forward as a contributor”.
He pauses. The publication she works for is huge. Getting his name in a good print could bring him closer to the current love of his life: visibility.
She quickly offers details about the project. She’ll have to figure out a way to get him on the list of authors now. Shouldn’t be tough. He is well-known in these circles. The right suggestion at the right time will do it.
She concludes with a subtle quid pro quo, “if I eventually end up working for you, of course, it will become easier for us to coordinate this…I’ll be happy to liaise with the editors… probably even secure other projects where I can assist you. I mean – ”
He cuts her short, “You can write to my secretary with the details. The valet’s brought my car around, I should get going”.
He is stumped. Did she just try to buy her way into working with him? It can’t be. He holds all the cards. He has worked ten years for those cards! She is crazy if she thinks this is even a negotiation!!!
She doesn’t miss a beat. “Of course. We can discuss it via email. Looking forward to keeping in touch”, and steps back.
He walks out in wonder, shaky in his grasp on the world. A novice, ten years his junior, figured out what would lure him and did not hesitate to use it to her advantage. He is at once in fear and awe of this new, uninhibited, creature. Not a care for what he might think, no fear of failure!
A strange idea comes to him like a whisper – what if he has been wrong all this while? What if Gen Zen succeeds? If the kids figure out a way to get things done without being reverential to the past… where will that leave his generation and those before him?
Shake it off. Shake it off. You are a counsel in a top-tier law firm. You don’t have to do anything to suit a fledgling 23 year-old-nobody. Get in the car, drive home, have a mimosa.
And he does.
A month later, he hires her.