Changing profession

Allison Shields has a pretty interesting post about the changing needs of lawyers entering the profession now in her post titled “What’s Wrong with the New Generation of Lawyers“. It seems that the newer generation of lawyers do not share the same values as their predecessors. This doesn’t really come as a surprise for me as I was acutely aware that my values were different to those held by my superiors while at my previous firm. Shields draws on a post in Larry Bodine’s Law Marketing blog titled “Generation Gap Hurts Law Firm Marketing” and makes the following observation:

Bodine says that 69% of associates today don’t see themselves making partner, and 55% aren’t sure they’ll stay in law practice. Based on those statistics, Bodine opines that the real reason behind the reluctance to market is that “it’s impossible to market a service that you don’t want to perform.”

I’m not sure I agree that Bodine’s conclusion necessarily follows. Just because a lawyer isn’t sure they want to stay in traditional law practice or make partner at their firm doesn’t necessarily mean that lawyers don’t like the law, or serving clients, or being lawyers. Nor is it a foregone conclusion that they can’t or don’t want to market for that reason./p>

Lawyers today know that the landscape of law practice, and indeed business in general, is different than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Statistics show that people change jobs and careers more often. Young lawyers are leaving open the possibility that anything can happen. They don’t assume that they’re going to have one job for their entire career.

Just because a lawyer may not want to make partner or have a life-long legal career doesn’t necessarily mean that young lawyers aren’t interested in their firms, or in marketing. Most young lawyers realize that marketing and bringing in business will increase their professional reputation as well as their own personal bottom line, whether they ultimately stay with their firm or not.

I believe that the general shift aware from the desire for a lifelong job is a big contributing factor here and see no reason why the legal industry shouldn’t be affected by it. There is so much emphasis on working your way up to partner, as if being a partner is the pinnacle of a lawyer’s career. I just don’t believe that that is a truth for many anymore.

As Bodine puts it:

That’s because Generation X, associates aged 27 to 41, are loners who question authority, can be cynical, pessimistic, think in short time horizons and have a “prove it to me” attitude, according to author and consultant Cam Marston, of Marston Communications in Charlotte, N.C.

So what are the reasons for this disparity? Shields offers up the following:

Part of the problem may be the way the different generations define success, or how ‘in tune’ the individuals are with their real goals and values. The older generation may be defining success by prestige, partnership and financial status, while the younger generation may be defining success as living an exciting or happy life, having more free time and being more involved with family and community.

The older generation of lawyers has a specific idea of what ‘work ethic’ looks like that is defined, at least in part, by the time in which they were coming of age as lawyers, and the limitations of technology during that time. Many partners are still assuming that if a lawyer isn’t physically present in the office, they aren’t working.

For many lawyers, ‘work ethic’ has become synonomous with giving over your entire life to your firm and putting the firm ahead of everything else – family, friends, outside interests, and even health. That’s not a work ethic – that’s slavery. It may bring financial rewards and prestige in some circles, but it also often brings depression, alcoholism, anxiety, stress and a whole host of other problems.

The number of billable hours expected from associates has climbed, although they have the same 24 hour day that older lawyers had, even though, in most cases, the firm’s partners were required to bill up to several hundred less hours annually than the associates of today. Under these circumstances, it’s not hard to see why there’s a difference of opinion about ‘work ethic.’

None of this means that younger lawyers can’t or won’t market – they just a different mindset and different priorities than the older generation. In order to motivate the younger generation, they have to see how marketing their firms will benefit them. If they aren’t interested in partnership, then firms have to motivate them by emphasizing other rewards that will come from marketing the firm. If marketing means that a lawyer is going to have to spend even more time away from family and other activities, the younger generation isn’t likely to do it, particularly if the only reward they see is a partnership they don’t want.

I strongly believe that law firms need to think differently if they are going to attract and retain lawyers these days. The newer generation of lawyers has a different set of values and these need to be respected if firms have any hope of growing in this new environment.






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