YOUR LEGAL WRITES: Browsing the gap for new lawyers

By Kathryn E. Brown | May 22, 2007

CHARLESTON -- For today's young lawyers, the gap isn't a store filled with trendy clothes for casual days in the firm.

Instead, "the gap" refers to generation, and it can only be described as the great divide.

In 2003, the legal consulting firm of Altman Weil Inc. published a study, which forecasted the professional expectations of new lawyers. Co-authors Virginia Grant and Marci Krufka reported that firms would experience new challenges as they looked for creative ways to recruit, retain, and satisfy higher maintenance associates.

Grant and Krufka predicted that law firms would be populated with four different classifications of lawyers. The Traditionalist Lawyer (born in 1945 or before), practices with the Baby Boomer Lawyer (born between 1946-1964), who recruited the Generation X Lawyer (born between 1965-1980), who helps train the Generation Y Associate (born between 1981-1999).

The authors stated that partners feel irritated by the latest brand of associates mainly because the new class respects authority, but they are not intimidated by it. To many old-school lawyers, questioning direction and expressing opinions are signs of discourteous behavior. The new recruits, however, feel their involvement is misunderstood, and the miscommunication between generations is one of the leading causes for associate dissatisfaction and turnover.

The Traditionalists believe in dedication and loyalty, a chain of command, and seniority-based management. The Baby Boomers are energetic, driven lawyers who possess a passion for success. Generation X is technologically savvy, valuing freedom and career versatility. Then, there is Generation Y, who expects law firm management to nurture individual uniqueness and diversity.

Lifestyle issues are of great importance to Generation Y, as race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and religious beliefs must be reflected in a firm's tapestry.

Separate from the Altman Weil study, law firm human resource managers reveal that new associates require an exhausting amount of attention from supervising lawyers. The younger ones request constant feedback (praise), and feel entitled to opportunities that used to be earned through the old-fashioned paying of dues.

Although these new associates are hard working and competitive, they prefer to work in modern firms with technological conveniences to ease some of the workplace strain.

Recruiting partner Christopher B. Power of Dinsmore and Shohl, disagrees with the notion that today's associate is hard to work with. Generation X and Y behavior may be geographically charged, with West Virginia being the exception.

"Primarily, we recruit from the WVU College of Law, and our summer program is the tool we use for selecting associates," Power said. "I have seen these studies, and Dinsmore and Shohl has not experienced any of those things. We are very pleased with the quality of associates who have come from WVU."

Power explained that his firm's younger associates are bright, energetic, and comprised of extremely talented writers, a trait that his generation finds to be of critical importance.

"The folks that we bring on board are self-starters," he continued. "We don't see any of the presumptuousness that is spoken of in such reports. We've been quite fortunate that our associates don't need coddling," Power said.

Parents of Generation Y are staying actively involved in their adult children's lives, moving from the role of personal caregiver to professional agent. Called "Helicopters", these heavily involved parents hover over their children, negotiating the terms of employment agreements and financial offers. Helicopter parents view their presence as a means of securing a return on their investments in undergraduate, graduate, and professional educations. They want the best for their sons and daughters, but aside from career security, these mothers and fathers want their money's worth.

Perhaps the example set by parents explains why new associates expect to receive immediate gratification when it comes to "entry-level" salaries and benefits.

The recruitment teams at Hewlett-Packard and Ernst and Young acknowledge that the new generation of employees want and need parental approval, so these corporate giants involve family members in the hiring process. Some companies host job fairs geared toward influencing the candidate's family, providing personal tours of facilities, encouraging informational meetings with key administrators, and sending courtesy copies of personnel documents to the parents' home.

Will law firms witness the participation of parents like other professional industries have in the past four years? As new lawyers enter the legal workforce, they, along with practice recruiters may have to make a family decision when it comes to securing a proper fit.

Brown is the managing member of The Write Word LLC, a professional writing and editing agency based in Charleston.

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