Baby Boom/Millennial Generation Gap

Contributor: Fred Egler, Esq.
Senior Counsel at Reed Smith LLP in Pittsburgh, fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, a Past President of the Allegheny County Bar Association, and was the Editor-In-Chief of the Pittsburgh Legal Journal for 15 years.

Lawyers of the baby boom generation often find it hard to manage (or, in some cases, even communicate with) their younger millennial colleagues.  Stereotypes depicting millennials as unmotivated slackers reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of the external forces that have shaped these intergenerational conflicts in attitudes toward the practice of law.

Conflict between young and old is hardly a new phenomenon. Most baby boomers remember the “generation gap” and slogans like “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”  Fear, distrust, and, most of all, poor communication fueled these attitudes then and now.  Baby boomers entered the practice of law in an era of unprecedented expansion that will probably never be repeated.  Millennials, on the other hand, see both their opportunities and their job experiences differently because of fundamental changes in the economics and  practice of law.

Surveys suggest that a substantial majority of millennial lawyers have no interest in becoming partner, and that an even larger majority of senior lawyers believe this about their young colleagues too.  One recent survey found that fully two-thirds of millennial lawyers in large law firms said that they would consider a job with fewer hours if it meant less pay.  They also rated factors like firm culture and work-life balance higher compensation when considering a job offer.

Millennial lawyers do not have a congenital fear of hard work.  What they crave is training, guidance, and feedback, as opposed to being slotted into routine and monotonous tasks (Think e-discovery reviews).  Most disagree with the statement that “Law school prepared me to practice law.”  Yet almost the same percentage agreed that “The more I work, the more I learn.”

Partners and managing attorneys need to know and understand these attitudes of their millennial colleagues in order to effectively develop their careers and maximize their worth to the firm.  Linking compensation directly to billable hours will not motivate most young lawyers, and is likely to increase attrition and reduce the quality of their work.  Training, attention, and feedback are critical to today’s partner-associate relationships.  To many senior lawyers, this care and feeding of associates may seem like coddling and even a waste of time. But a more human touch with young lawyers will yield benefits, both in terms of value and culture, to almost any law firm.

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Seek Balance & Do Not Fear Change

The following contains excerpts from Melaine Shannon Rothey, Parting thoughts: Seek balance, don’t fear change, 19(12) ACBA Lawyers Journal 3 (Jun 9, 2017).

[R]emember that there are four generations of lawyers practicing today – the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, the Gen X-ers and the Millennials. Each of these generations has its positives and its negatives. We can learn from both aspects. We do not always have to agree with opposing counsel or with the judge; however, we must disagree in a civil and respectful manner, whether in open court or in a pleading or in correspondence. Bad attitudes and nastygrams have no place in our profession.

Work/life balance –the line between work and home has become seriously blurred. We have to figure out a way to “check out” of the office. We have to take some serious, uninterrupted time for ourselves and our families. I know that you find this hard to believe, but the office will survive without you.

Change –change is not a bad thing. Just because we “always did it this way” does not mean that we should not try a new way to do things. At the very least, those of us that have been doing it the same way for many years should listen and entertain a new option or procedure.

Mentoring –we must mentor each other. To the Silent Generation and the Boomers, be patient with the young-uns. They really do want to learn. They will catch on and will probably improve upon the technique. Gen-Xers and Millennials, be patient with us. We are not trying to make you crazy. We are just resistant to change.

Remember the five lessons from Dr. Seuss:
BE YOURSELF – Who else do you want to be?
MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE – Isn’t that the reason most of us went to law school?
NEVER STOP LEARNING –Knowledge for the sake of knowledge.
IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE – Do I really have to continue to repeat the necessity of work/life balance?
BE POSITIVE – We are surrounded by negativity all day long.

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The Happiest Lawyers

The following is an excerpt from Hillary Mantis, Who Are the Happiest Lawyers?, Lawyer & Statesman, (May 16, 2014).

In my years as a career counselor, I have met many lawyers who are very happy with their careers. …The lawyers I know who developed defined interests in law school, and got to know themselves better, are the ones who are happy now. For example, a colleague who absolutely knew she wanted to go into Legal Services, defending the indigent, did end up working for the Legal Aid Society. More than a decade later, she is very satisfied with her career.

I’ve met lawyers who enjoy the challenge and the resources (not to mention the paycheck) available in large law firms, and those who love the entrepreneurial nature of being solo practitioners (one that I worked with turned down a job listing I told him about, because he didn’t want to go back to work for someone else.)

But what if you don’t have defined career interests? …I recommend you take advantage of the career testing and counseling available to you at many law schools. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong are two of the most commonly used career tests. …Read career books, like The Official Guide to Legal Specialties, which describe the many practice areas that are available to lawyers. …Law externships can also really help you determine if a practice area is right for you.

The lawyers I’ve met who are unhappy are often the ones who are not in a good fit for their position. They are stuck in their offices doing research, when they would rather be in a high people interaction center. Or they are stuck in court all day, when in fact they are terrified of public speaking.

But what about the economy? …I understand the realities of the market, and yes, you may have to take a job right out of law school that isn’t your first or even second choice, to pay the bills. …Even if the recovery is slow, you can spend time now planning your long-term career. Lateral moves are often easier.

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Millennials in the Workplace

The following is an excerpt from Carolyn Heller Baird, Myths, exaggerations and uncomfortable truths: The real story behind Millennials in the workplace, IBM Global Business Services Executive Summary (Jan 2015). (View Full PDF)

Many commentaries claim that Millennials are ‘lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow.’ However, according to a multigenerational study of 1,784 employees from businesses across 12 countries and 6 industries, IBM compared the preferences and behavioral patterns of Millennials to those of Gen X and Baby Boomers.

From the Study
The research done by IBM’s study debunked 5 common myths about Millennials:

  • Myth 1: Millennials’ career goals and expectations are different from those of older generations. Our findings indicate Millennials have similar career aspirations to those of older generations. They want financial security and seniority just as much as Gen X and Baby Boomers, and all three generations want to work with a diverse group of people. Millennials also align with other generations over what it takes to engage employees at work.
  • Myth 2: Millennials want constant acclaim and think everyone on the team should get a trophy. When asked to describe their perfect boss, Millennials say they want a manager who’s ethical, fair and transparent more than one who recognizes their accomplishments.
  • Myth 3: Millennials are digital addicts who want to do — and share — everything online, without regard for personal or professional boundaries. No question about it, Millennials are adept at interacting online, but this doesn’t mean they want to do everything virtually. For example, Millennials prefer face-to-face contact when learning new skills at work. And Millennials are more likely to draw a firm line between their personal and professional social media networks than Gen X or Baby Boomers.
  • Myth 4: Millennials, unlike their older colleagues, can’t make a decision without first inviting everyone to weigh in. Despite their reputation for crowdsourcing, Millennials are no more likely than many of their older colleagues to solicit advice at work. True, more than half of all Millennials say they make better business decisions when a variety of people provide input. But nearly two-thirds of Gen X employees say the same.
  • Myth 5: Millennials are more likely to jump ship if a job doesn’t fulfill their passions. Another fiction. When Millennials change jobs, they do so for much the same reasons as Gen X and Baby Boomers. More than 40 percent of all respondents say they would change jobs for more money and a more innovative environment.

The study also uncovered three uncomfortable universal truths:

  • Uncomfortable truth 1: Employees are in the dark. Many aren’t sure they understand their organization’s business strategy — and their leaders are partly to blame. More than half of the people we surveyed don’t fully understand key elements of their organization’s strategy, what they’re supposed to do or what their customers want. What does it take to engage employees at work? Millennials’ priorities align with those of other generations Inspirational leadership Clearly articulated vision/ business strategy Work/life balance and flexibility Performance-based recognition and promotions Freedom to innovate Collaborative work environment Millennials Gen X Baby Boomers 20% 30% 40% Source: IBM Institute for Business Value Millennial Survey 2014, Millennials n=1,153, Gen X n=353, Baby Boomers n=278. Q18: Which attributes does an organization need to offer to help employees feel engaged at work? Select your top three. IBM GLOBAL BUSINESS SERVICES Talent and Change Executive Summary
  • Uncomfortable truth 2: All three generations think the customer experience is poor. We asked our respondents to rate their organization’s effectiveness on a number of factors such as workforce diversity and attention to environmental and societal concerns. The results were favorable, with a single big exception: employees of every generation think their enterprise handles their customer experience poorly.
  • Uncomfortable truth 3: Employees of all ages have embraced the technological revolution, but organizations are slow to implement new applications. As more Millennials have embarked on their careers, expectations of a technological revolution in the workplace have increased. However, only 4 percent of respondents claim their organization has no issues implementing new technologies. Most cite the impact new technologies would have on their customer experience as the key inhibitor.


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Millennials: Building Relationships

Insights & Tips

  • Gap between perception of roles of senior lawyers and millennials
  • Millennials view senior lawyers as mentors & back-up to fix their work
  • Supervising lawyers want associates to perform their work well to provide value for clients

The following is an excerpt from Grover E. Cleveland, Esquire, Above the Law, July 17, 2015.

Understanding how to build relationships with senior lawyers is another challenge for new lawyers. A question on that topic revealed a huge disconnect between PD professionals and their associates. In responding to the statement: “Associates should treat senior lawyers as their clients,” 93% of PD professionals agreed. Only 54% of millennial lawyers agreed.

Why the gap? Some new lawyers view senior lawyers primarily as mentors – or their backup. There is a common misconception among new lawyers that the role of more senior lawyers is to fix the work of junior lawyers. Senior lawyers do not want to do that. Supervising attorneys will perform a quality-control function, but they want junior lawyers to do their own work and do it well. Clients won’t pay for work and rework.

To succeed, millennial lawyers must provide value to senior lawyers, just as those lawyers provide value to external clients. But the concept of providing value can seem foreign to new grads. Providing value is generally not a skill that law schools teach or require.


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Identifying Predictors of Law Student Life Satisfaction

Insights & Tips

  • Smaller, more diverse schools most conducive to life satisfaction
  • Correlation with more discussion in classrooms
  • Correlation with connection and sense of community

The following is an excerpt from Nisha C. Gottfredson et al., Identifying Predictors of Law Student Life Satisfaction, 58 J. Legal Educ.
520 (Dec. 2008).

Compared to the U.S. population, law students are at greater risk for stress-related health disorders. However, law students have the potential to experience a high degree of meaningful engagement with their work, to feel a sense of community involvement and support, and to feel proud of their achievements. Based on prior well-being research, it was predicted that engagement, social support, and perceptions of academic success would relate to enhanced satisfaction with life for a national sample of law students. Findings from a multilevel regression analysis revealed that smaller, more diverse law schools with higher quality instruction and class discussion were most conducive to life satisfaction. Students who felt supported by their academic and home communities and students who were academically successful were the most satisfied with their lives.

National data were collected from law students by a multisite, interdisciplinary team of researchers working on the Educational Diversity Project (EDP) study during law school orientation in Fall 2004, and student participants were again contacted in Spring 2007, as they were expected to be completing law school.

The study utilized the Five-Item Satisfaction with Life scale, including items:

  1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal
  2. The conditions in my life are excellent
  3. I am satisfied with my life
  4. So far I have gotten the important things I want in life
  5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing


  • Life satisfaction
  • School characteristic
  • Individual demographic characteristics and personality
  • Social support
  • Perceived academic efficacy
  • Engagement with/meaningfulness of course material


  • Students who attended more racially diverse schools were significantly more satisfied with their lives, while students attending larger schools had less life satisfaction.
  • Older students reported being less satisfied than younger students.
  • Males reported being less satisfied than females.
  • Students who had relatively higher family income during childhood had higher life satisfaction.
  • Extraverted law students reported more life satisfaction than introverted law students.
  • Students who reported positive relationships with faculty reported significantly greater life satisfaction.
  • Students with higher LSAT scores were significantly less satisfied than students with lower LSAT scores.
  • Student-reported perceived quality of instruction and quality of class discussion were positively related to life satisfaction.

The most satisfied law students were those who experienced an appropriate level of challenge, consistent with the concept of “flow.” An optimally functioning individual would succeed academically (contributing to greater self-efficacy) and would have a sense of engagement with their school and with their work. Perceived academic success in law school positively related to life satisfaction, but LSAT scores slightly negatively related to life satisfaction. This discrepancy suggests that one’s ability level, as assessed by standardized admissions tests, does not predict life satisfaction but instead, the rewards gained through hard work and engagement with the material predicts life satisfaction.

This finding suggests that racially diverse environments, combined with academic challenge, give rise to positive perceptions of one’s own satisfaction. This study could not determine whether satisfied students choose racially diverse environments or whether the racially diverse environments contribute to a student’s perceived life satisfaction. Future research could further investigate this relationship.

School climate matters. A more supportive atmosphere with positive student-student and student-faculty relationships, and a more diverse student body, leads to higher levels of student satisfaction. Such supportive environments will also reduce the possibility that students encounter microaggressions (everyday experiences of implicit or explicit discrimination).

It is also important that students perceive their class discussions and lectures as being high quality. Students who attend smaller schools are more satisfied than those attending larger schools. This may be due to a combination of factors, including a sense of community and support, and perceived quality of classes. Reducing class size, while potentially costly, might attenuate some of the differences in satisfaction levels across students in small and large schools.

Table 3
Predictors of Life Satisfaction
Variable Domain Estimate SE
School Characteristics
Racial Diversity                                                .49       .19
Enrollment                                                       -.09       .07
Private Sector                                                   .04       .05
Percent Admitted                                           -.04      .33
Individual Demographic Characteristics and Personality
Age                                                                                     -.26     .04
Female                                                                .19      .04
Relative Childhood Income                          .02      .02
Self Confidence in Social Situations          .13         .02
Emotional Stability                                          .11         .02
Openness to Experience                               -.01       .00
African American                                            -.23       .11
Asian American                                                 .14        .08
Mexican/Hispanic                                           -.01       .10
Multiracial                                                            .00       .08
Social Support
Marriage/Cohabitation                                   .31          .04
Biological Father Present                               .23          .07
Quality of Friendships Developed               .02          .02
Quality of Faculty Relationships                  .03          .02
Academic Success/Self-efficacy
LSAT                                                                                     -.15        .04
Baseline Expected Rank                                  .00       .02
Expectation to Pass Bar                                   .07         .02
Academic Struggle                                            -.21        .05
Engagement with Material/Meaningfulness
Quality of Class Discussions                          .04         .03
Quality of Instruction                                       .11           .03
Extracurricular Options                                  .01         .02


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Millennials: Preparation for Practice

The following is an excerpt from Grover E. Cleveland, Esquire, Above the Law, July 17, 2015.

Although the skills lawyers learn in school are critical, millennial associates understand they have much more to master. In recent years law schools have made significant strides in providing more practical skills training. But despite this progress, 72% of the millennial lawyers disagreed with the statement: “Law school prepared me to practice law.”

The PD professionals disagreed even more. In that group, 87% responded that law school had not prepared associates for practice. Only 13% of the PD professionals agreed that law school had prepared associates to practice law.

By contrast, when BARBRI surveyed third-year law students earlier this year, it found that 71% believe they “possess sufficient practice skills.” Why the disparate results? Until law students begin practice, they don’t know what they don’t know.


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