How Law Firms Can Manage Disparate Age Groups (And Attract New Talent)

Did you know that, at any given time, there can be four generations of lawyers on staff at a firm? Let’s see, how does that break down by category?  First we have the traditionalists—the senior lawyers, or the ones who’ve been with the firm the longest.  Born between 1922 to 1945, their age category falls into the 66-89 bracket. Then there are the Baby Boomers, or those born between 1946 to 1964.  These lawyers are from 47 to 65 years of age.  After that we have the Generation Xers, born between 1965 to 1980. They’ll be from 31 to 46 years old.  Finally, the youngest lawyers, Generation Y’s, were born between 1981 to 2000.  They’re no older than 30.  And they are the ones that firms will want to focus on, as it looks to the future.

It’s important that the differences inherent in each group be addressed, so that a firm can move ahead successfully as a whole.  At some point, these four age groups are bound to collide, as there will be plenty of identity factors that can come into play. For instance, the newest generation Y’s are less likely to conform and fall into step with those who came before. There are also variances in communications styles, attitudes and approaches, reports a recent blog. This is bound to affect not only interactions between co-workers, but client relationships and the overall success of the firm.  

Which factor has the highest impact?  Expectations. “Generational identities influence expectations, and expectations affect the success of recruiting, retention and advancement” of new lawyers (from Generation Y).   In addition, each group’s identity represents certain patterns of behavior which affect productivity and performance.   

To better understand—and manage–those behaviors, let’s look at the different groups and examine the characteristics relative to each. Of course, there will be exceptions. 

Traditionalists will often refer back to the time they were “coming up” in the industry; a time when there was a clearly-defined chain of command. They are averse to risk, frugal and in it for the long haul. Their motto is: if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.  

Baby Boomers are ambitious, savvy and competitive. They stress a work-life balance. They are into team efforts and prize their place in workplace politics. They want “what is best for everyone”.   Generation Xer’s are poised to take on the leadership of law firms.  They ‘”value autonomy and are sceptical of authority.”  This group will be the likeliest to leave for greener pastures. They have an entrepreneurial drive and are technologically savvy.  

Generation Y’s youngest members will be summer associates this year. They resemble Boomers a bit in their philosophy. “They are skilled multi-taskers, confident, team-oriented and eager to please.”  They also value work-life balance. Networking for this group is based on social media, and they expect “immediacy of information”.   

To keep a fresh pool of talent, most firms will need to woo Generation Y’s, who, as part of their identity, eagerly accept challenges. It should also be taken into account that this category might pair off well with Boomers as they share some similarities, and because of the parent-child nature of the relationships.

Here are a few other suggestions to help meet this group’s expectations:

  • Hiring committees should represent all four age categories (and each group should have discussed and considered how best to attract the crème de la crème of this group);
  • Pamphlets and the likes should de-emphasize tradition and the firm’s history and should focus, instead, on mentoring, training, development and work-life balance; 
  • As this group is most comfortable with informal forms of communications such as e-mails and text messaging, the rules regarding privacy, confidentially and professionalism in the age of social media should be clearly defined.

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