I recently wrote a post for Edge International Communiqué on the perils of making age-based assumptions about our legal-profession colleagues. I share it here for those who missed it.
Older lawyers have told me that lawyers in the younger generation simply do not have the values that they did. “The younger generation expects to have it all. They didn’t need to earn it the way we did. They lack our principles and they lack empathy. Mature lawyers have to suffer and figure out what to do with these aberrations.”
For their part, younger lawyers have knowledge of technology that the senior lawyers at the firm do not. Some seem to believe that the mature generation should just scramble into their graves. Then, free of the deadwood, they will be able to get on with utilizing the best and most modern technology to serve the clients of the firm.
As most rational people realize, both points of view are riddled with emotional nonsense. The younger generation is not lazy. The younger generation does not lack values. The younger generation has empathy and wants to serve others. They may want to do things a little differently than their predecessors, but they are no less righteous or valuable.
For their part, some senior people at law firms understand technology better than the newer generations. “What?” you may say. “How can this be? The younger generation texts rather than using voicemail. These younger lawyers understand gaming technology. Isn’t gamification an important new concept with a host of real-world applications?”
These are opinions. But what is the reality? In my work with law firms, I have noticed that while the younger generation may text rather than use voicemail, and may prefer email to picking up the telephone, there is no guarantee whatsoever that the thirty-something lawyer has any clue about how to use current technology to manage projects or to streamline systems. Please note that I didn’t say that the younger generation isn’t at the forefront of the evolving technology. It is. But for the most part, the technology leaders just don’t happen to be lawyers. Furthermore, in many of the firms I serve, it is the senior practitioners who have been struggling to figure out how to add value to quench the insatiable appetite of the ever-more demanding clients. Not every senior lawyer is so forward-thinking, to be sure, but a good many of them are.
In short, you simply can’t predict mindset or receptivity based on vintage or era. To do so is “ageism” – whether you are making presumptions about younger people or older ones.
My strong recommendation to those law firms who do not yet have research and development (and/or “skunk works”) groups is that they get busy and start forming them. And don’t let your bigotry exclude any generation. Invite those who are interested. Invite those who care. Let them run up the mast and be your early warning system. Give them some room. They don’t need a lot of budget to read and explore and understand what is going on around them. And if they do recommend something, be slow to reject their recommendation.