Baby Boom/Millennial Generation Gap

By Fred Egler, Esquire, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Lawyers of the baby boom generation often find it hard to manage (or, in some cases, even communicate with) their younger millennial colleagues.  Stereotypes depicting millennials as unmotivated slackers reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the external forces that have shaped these intergenerational conflicts in attitudes toward the practice of law.

Conflict between young and old is hardly a new phenomenon. Most baby boomers remember the “generation gap” and slogans like “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”  Fear, distrust, and, most of all, poor communication fueled these attitudes then and now.  Baby boomers entered the practice of law in an era of unprecedented expansion that will probably never be repeated.  Millennials, on the other hand, see both their opportunities and their job experiences differently because of fundamental changes in the economics and  practice of law.

Surveys suggest that a substantial majority of millennial lawyers have no interest in becoming partner, and that an even larger majority of senior lawyers believe this about their young colleagues too.  One recent survey found that fully two-thirds of millennial lawyers in large law firms said that they would consider a job with fewer hours if it meant less pay.  They also rated factors like firm culture and work-life balance higher compensation when considering a job offer.

Millennial lawyers do not have a congenital fear of hard work.  What they crave is training, guidance, and feedback, as opposed to being slotted into routine and monotonous tasks (Think e-discovery reviews).  Most disagree with the statement that “Law school prepared me to practice law.”  Yet almost the same percentage agreed that “The more I work, the more I learn.”

Partners and managing attorneys need to know and understand these attitudes of their millennial colleagues in order to effectively develop their careers and maximize their worth to the firm.  Linking compensation directly to billable hours will not motivate most young lawyers, and is likely to increase attrition and reduce the quality of their work.  Training, attention, and feedback are critical to today’s partner-associate relationships.  To many senior lawyers, this care and feeding of associates may seem like coddling and even a waste of time. But a more human touch with young lawyers will yield benefits, both in terms of value and culture, to almost any law firm.

Senior Counsel at Reed Smith LLP in Pittsburgh, fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, a Past President of theFred Egler Allegheny County Bar Association, and was the Editor-In-Chief of the Pittsburgh Legal Journal for 15 years.

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