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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin | Winter 2014

Human Interest Jessica Powers mortgages between 2009 and 2011 is half the number it was just two years ago.4 The largest generation in American history might never spend as lavishly as its parents did - nor on the same things.5 And what surfaces is that while money and income are necessary and important to Generation Y, it is not their sole priority. “I’ve definitely noticed that we have a much more competitive pool of applicants now for in-house positions than we did even 10 years ago,” says John, the bank executive. “When I started with the bank years ago, an in-house position was not as prestigious as becoming partner at a big firm. But now we get applications from promising young lawyers who are forgoing partnership because they desire a different lifestyle.” Apparently the salary at an in-house position is sufficient for many younger lawyers (Generation X included) and also provides intangible benefits geared toward work/life balance. And as Sally observed, “Younger people are happy with making a lot of money… they don’t need to make a dump truck full of money. I’ve observed that many are going in-house after a while. They pay off their student loans, choose to live in modest homes and shop at Publix instead of Wholefoods so that they can live the type of life they want.” So what does motivate the Millennial lawyer? “I don’t think we know exactly what motivates the younger generation,” says another Gen X lawyer. “I think they are motivated by freedom… whether it be freedom from financial burden or freedom to do their job the way they want,” she adds. Where the work gets done seems to be an important issue with today’s young people. “We have an unspoken policy that as long as the work is getting done, and done well, it doesn’t matter where it happens,” says another Gen X lawyer at a large firm. But is an “unspoken” rule enough for Millennials? While the flexibility provided by “unspoken” rules is happily accepted, Millennials are characterized by needing defined and articulated parameters. It may be that even taking steps to create a thoughtful policy about telecommuting may have a big impact on tension in the workplace. It is clear from research about Millennials (and the opinions articulated in the last article) that young lawyers want more from their daily professional experience than to sit in a quiet office and be told what to do throughout the day. And it makes sense, considering who raised them. It has been ingrained by their Baby Boomer parents that they can do and achieve anything they want. Naturally, they want immediate engagement and interaction with decision-makers. As John the banker also said, “The Millennials are much less interested in politics and much more interested in work. They are action-oriented and have elevated expectations of their involvement. They don’t care one bit for hierarchy.” Legal practice, however, requires time and patience and the idea of a young lawyer sharing his/ her ideas with the rest of the firm does not fit within the established structure. The hierarchical structure, however, does not have to serve as an impediment. A young lawyer can be heard or engaged in other ways, such as creating a position on the firm’s management committee for the younger segment or devising a liaison mechanism between the newbies and the established. There are ways to collaborate with young lawyers and therefore provide an environment where their ideas can be heard. “Young lawyers are so much more worldly and informed today,” says one self described Gen Xer whose birthday falls just outside the cutoff of the Baby Boomer generation. “Some of my most talented lawyers,” (and she manages more than 50) “are my youngest and it’s because they bring to the table interesting experiences and innovative ideas. They have grown up with access to information about the world that my generation never had,” she adds. And while Baby Boomers continue to run the Fortune 500 companies, they are beginning to make a generational shift “ It can be beneficial to tap into the generation of young people who prioritize social media and technology at the same level as salary and future earnings ” potential. 18 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin | Winter 2014
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