I just read with great interest Allison Shields' post "What's Wrong With the New Generation of Lawyers?" referring back to a post Larry Bodine penned back in August called "Generation Gap Hurts Law Firm Marketing."
I really like Allison's take and find myself in strong agreement with her (which happens a lot, actually). What she writes above parallels (though much more eloquently) what ran through my mind when I first read Larry's post.
I don't contest the American Lawyer survey findings that 69% of associates don't expect or desire partnership. I, too, hear this in both law and accounting firms. I agree with her (a former practicing lawyer) that one cannot draw the conclusion (as did Larry) that associates not aspiring to become partner directly correlates with a lack of desire to market.
Allison nicely explains why lack of a clear desire to be partner doesn't necessarily equate to lack of willingness to market.
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.
From what I witness, more often than not, associates are more interested in, and willing to participate in, "organized" and "preplanned" marketing activities than are partners.
In the rare instances they don't participate, it is largely because partners don't practice what they preach (i.e. do the marketing planning and activities themselves). Other times it's because associates aren't taught the benefits or techniques of business development. Not taught the benefits to them, they might conclude their marketing efforts are just to drive more profits to partners' pockets.
In Bodine's post, I really find Cam Marston's narrowly painted stereotypes of Gen X &Y to be heavily (negatively) biased. And Larry's generalization is just as bad: "They don't want to be like the people who are in charge of the firm, the Baby Boomers who have a strong work ethic, are competitive, optimistic and show success visibly with trophies and plaques."
Judging from the people in firms that I meet, this is largely untrue on both sides of the equation. Not all Gen X/Y'ers lack work ethic, competitive spirit, and optimism. Not all "Boomers" have work ethic, are competitive, or care to show success visibly. And certainly, many Boomers have lost their professional optimism.
First of all, I don't think the generations are so far apart, really.
Why do people try to create a chasm, where one needn't exist! Though there are, of course, some differences between people in their 20s/30s and their 50s/60s, it occurs to me that the problems we see in firms aren't so much due to a "Generation Gap." It's a lack of conversation.
Whether in the boardroom, or in the media, sitting around making sweeping generalizations about our differences only makes us less connected, less comfortable with each other, and not more.
Could we possibly approach this in a more UNhealthy manner?
What say we compare what we DO agree on and see how we can build from there?
Where to Start...
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.
I would say this applies to ALL ages/generations of professionals. Shouldn't we strive to free practioners of ALL ages from this paradigm of unhealthy work attitude?
It's time to have conversations about a better way for the professions to do business. And that includes making it better for all the generations in a firm.