Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin: November 2012

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In doing research for this article, I came found a lot of good articles and the information is listed here:

XYZUniversity is a company by Sarah Sladek, the speaker mentioned above. While she works with associations, her information is excellent and very timely. Her blog post “Quick Glimpse at the Generation Gap in Your Office” is very accurate.   

• Law Practice, June 2006 Issue, “Closing the Generation Gap” , ABA Law Practice Management Section

• “Managing a Multigenerational Workforce”, The Diversity Manager’s Toolkit, 2004

• “Five Tips for Multigenerational Inclusion

• “Managing Different Generations in the Workplace”, Small Business Trends

I recently attended a conference about bar associations, and the plenary session speaker talked about various generations and how these different set of generations will affect associations such as the MSBA.

While nothing was exactly new, it made me think about how this will affect not just associations but law firms, the practice of law, employees, potential clients, and communication. 

For the first time in history, the work place and the business world will include not only four generations of people, but the younger generation will be much more diverse, and they will be more comfortable with this diversity. 

Although solos and small firms have few, if any employees, this workplace phenomenon and subsequent conflicts will still have a major impact on the future success of our practices. 

People are working longer than in the past and this contributes to the issues involved with the generations learning to understand the others. 

The generations and their broad characteristics now in many organizations, including law firms, are:

  • Traditionalists – born between 1900 and 1945 are very loyal and have usually only worked for one employer. They are motivated by recognition in doing a job well done.  They are comfortable with a top-down management style.
  • Baby Boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 and tend to be extremely competitive.  They are motivated by symbols of recognition yet they are optimistic and idealistic.  They are driven and work long hours. The recession has clearly caused many boomers to remain longer in the work place than they may have anticipated.
  • Gen X – born between 1965 and 1980 have little trust in the system. They are not usually considered team players and work independently. They are more interested in freedom. They are very concerned with balance in their work life and are much more willing to switch jobs frequently. Since Boomers are staying in the workplace and business community longer, this generation does not have the “typical” path to leadership positions.
  • Gen Y – born between 1981 and 1999 believe their work has value and want to make a difference. Unlike Gen Xers, they are more civic minded and sociable.

(This was taken from a chart from the article “Managing a Multigenerational Workforce” published at www.thediversitytoolkit.com.)

These are generalizations, but they point out how difficult it can be when attempting to manage a firm, deal with clients, work with other attorneys, market for new clients when confronted by these real differences. 

We must learn to work with all generations if our practices are to prosper. We need to understand how the different generations think – even if we do not agree with how they think – so we can communicate effectively. We may even have to admit, as hard as it may be, that another generation may have a better way of doing a task. 

These generational differences are noticed in two areas. 

One is when we need to hire someone whether it is for a legal staff position or an associate. It can even be an issue if we want to join forces with another practitioner or firm for the ultimate purpose of retiring from the practice.

Acquiring new clients through new technologies also shows the contrast between generations. Many new clients are a different generation and have different expectations.

We must understand how the different generations think and why to make many of these transitions successful. That may mean we have to give up on our widely held belief our generation (whichever it is) is the best and hardest working. I know how hard that can be, but it is absolutely critical.

According to the Mediation Training Institute International, over 65 percent of performance problems result directly from strained relationships between employees, not from deficits in individual employees’ skills or motivation.  And many of these strained relationships arise from differences between generations. A person’s outlook on life and work depends on when he or she was born. (www.mediationworks.com

Remember that multigenerational issues affect much more than just working relationships in the firm. These differences can affect client relations, attracting new clients and marketing efforts. It can also affect jury selection and trial outcomes.

What can you do to turn these differences into advantages and opportunities? According to Mary E. Brady, in an article entitled “Managing a Multigenerational Workforce”, there are a few things that can be done. I’ll paraphrase her comments:

  • Everyone wants to succeed, and people want to feel valued.  Usually people do not like conflict (although this might not be completely true in the legal profession). However, we see some of this changing as more people look to mediation for “win-win” situations. 
  • All arrows must be pointing in the same direction. There must be common goals, and people must know what those goals are.  We all need clear communication.  “Because I said so,” does not work with Gen X and Gen Y. 
  • No one wants to operate out of a sense of fear.  You cannot bully people into good work. Collaboration must be encouraged. 
  • And finally, the one we often forget, everyone likes to have fun.  It is possible, and even preferable, to have working relationships with others from different generations.  All generations can and must learn from others. Our firms, our clients, and our lives will be much better if each generation has much to offer the others.

Much of the discussion about multigenerational firms is about how the older generations must understand and learn from the newer generations, but is short-sided. It is just as important that the learning and understanding move in both directions – newer from older and older from newer. Each generation has much to offer and those practitioners who understand this will be much more successful in handling the demands of running a practice.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : November 2012

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