This article was originally published by Bloomberg BNA.
It was the first meeting with the client, a technology company that had built a fast-growing social media platform.
Randy was his firm’s undisputed resident expert in new media, but he needed another attorney — a Millennial — to accompany him, someone who would be better able to relate to his prospective client, Mark.
With much trepidation, Randy brought a younger associate to the meeting.
A few hours later, Randy returned to the office. The idea to take a younger associate to the meeting was spot on: Randy obtained the business because the associate and Mark hit it off on a personal level.
In the Randy example, taking a younger attorney to the meeting may seem obvious. Know that less-than-obvious situations will also arise where including younger generations can be a competitive advantage.
For the first time in history, there are four generations in the workforce—Silent, Boomer, Gen X and Millennial. Each has its own distinct markers and preferences. The generational shift, both within law firms and among clients, presents incredible opportunities for savvy lawyers and law firms who will take the time to understand the different generations and take the steps to customize their business approaches accordingly. For those who don’t, continued internal generational strife, increased turnover and client loss will follow.
The Silent Generation. Born 1925-1945 and also known as The Greatest Generation, these professionals were largely conditioned by war and depression. No wonder they are generally risk adverse, slow to innovate and need to be in control.
Boomers. Born 1946-1964, this group was defined by Woodstock and “free love,” and are the most idealistic of the generations. Raised in a lock-step system where they earned a higher status by putting in their time, they feel entitled to their position. For the most part, concepts of “sharing origination” or participating on a “client team” are foreign. Often times, Boomers are criticized for “hoarding work” and delaying the transition of clients to younger generations due to a reluctance to retire.
Gen X. Born 1965-1982, they are the most entrepreneurial of the generations as a result of being latchkey kids who, from a young age, were conditioned to fend for themselves. More independent and open to different approaches, Gen Xers embrace diversity. While Boomers feel that value and leadership are earned through tenure, Gen Xers want to be recognized today for the value they provide. The absence of opportunities leads this generation to leave their law firms in search of more entrepreneurial pastures.
Millennials. Born 1983-2000 and also known as Gen Y, these professionals are more tech savvy than the organizations that employ them. They seek collaboration and accessibility, and would prefer to communicate via text than email or in person.
According to recent analysis of how law firm leadership compares to its client counterpart, law firms are falling behind in transitioning leadership, business and relationship opportunities —specifically from Boomers to Gen Xers. The chart below demonstrates the rise in Gen X leadership among general counsels and C-suite executives.
The chart’s data was compiled by Greenberg Glusker CMO Heather Morse, who looked at every managing partner of the AmLaw 100 in 2014, and compared their ages with CEOs and General Counsel in the Fortune 100 and Nasdaq.
Understanding generational preferences is akin to understanding cultural mores. Savvy lawyers in the States would never seek foreign business without first familiarizing themselves with foreign preferences.
Recommendations For Leveraging the Generations
Leadership opportunities. Law firm leadership can leverage younger generations by identifying roles that play to their strengths. For example, an entertainment law firm in Los Angeles anointed a third-year associate as editor-in-chief of its blog. The associate’s role is to suggest weekly blog topics and encourage/assign colleagues to author blog entries. As a result, the blog stays current and the associate feels valued at his firm.
Other firms are transitioning Gen Xers into practice group leader, industry group leader and executive committee roles while the firm’s Boomers are still practicing law and available to offer direction, advice and mentorship.
Transitioning Relationships. Senior-level attorneys, who prolong retirement, may be perceived as clogging the arterial pathway to leadership and business for younger attorneys who are hungry to climb the relationship ladder. Law firm leadership can identify other ways for these talented, senior lawyers to take on new roles within their firms.
When appropriate, Boomers can invite Gen Xers and Millennials to join them on client visits, new business pitches, matter-closing celebratory dinners, and client social events. Boomers can encourage their client contacts to bring similarly paired members of their teams to these events. This encourages professionals, both from the law firm and from the client, to build relationships with one another, further strengthening the law firm’s relationship with the client.
Because transition conversations are often emotionally charged and thus difficult ones to have with senior attorneys, law firm leaders should set retirement expectations and surface the topic for conversation long before it’s time for the senior attorney to transition.
Client Succession Planning. Similar to a law firm annual business plan, consider drafting annual plans for key clients. Assemble those attorneys who work on a client’s matters and discuss ways of serving the client over the course of the next twelve months. Include in your planning ways to introduce other, younger attorneys at the firm to the client as well as professionals on the client side who should have a stronger relationship with the firm’s attorneys. Consider sharing the plan with the client for their input and feedback.
This exercise demonstrates to clients that the law firm is proactively looking out for them. Also, it will deepen the relationship the law firm has with the client in the event there is a change in personnel on either side of the relationship.
Law firm leadership can leverage firm talent at every generational level by taking a “one size fits one” approach. Instead of treating everyone in the firm the same (in lockstep), identify roles and opportunities for professionals at every level. Attorneys who feel fulfilled in their roles make fewer changes in employment and provide better client service—all of which leads to increased profits.