to explore new ways of doing business
By Melody Finnemore
Clifton Molatore knew early in his legal career that he wasnít satisfied at the large Los Angeles law firm where his employer expected him to rack up billable hours.
"Moving to the Northwest was a lifestyle change for me," says the 30-year-old associate at Portlandís Miller Nash law firm. "At Miller Nash, while there is an emphasis on working hard and doing a good job, there is also an emphasis on spending time with family. Itís very family-friendly and itís also got a very collegial feel, which was important to me."
Molatore is among a growing number of young attorneys who define their career goals based on the amount of time they have for family, hobbies, pro bono work and other personal pursuits. A better life/work balance is considered essential by Generation Y professionals, also called "Millennials" because the first wave graduated from college in 2000. Such priorities often set younger associates apart from older colleagues and law-firm partners.
"My dad was viewed as the breadwinner and my mom was the homemaker, so my dad worked all day and when he got home he was done," Molatore says. "I want to get home and spend time with my child and be as involved in her upbringing as I can, and I think a lot of male attorneys I work with feel that way, too. Itís not that we think our dads did a poor job, itís just a cultural shift."
In order to spend more time at home, Millennials often seek more flexible work schedules. Itís a workplace trend driven in large part by families in which both parents work and share responsibility for raising children. This desire for flexibility also applies to networking with clients and socializing with colleagues, Molatore says.
"I know a lot of people I work with, including myself, who would rather be at home with their families than go out for drinks in the evening," he says. "Thatís not to say I donít network or see the value of it. Itís just that Iíd rather do it during the day than in the evenings."
While many Millennials view flexibility as critical when it comes to work schedules and networking responsibilities, they stand firm on one point: They are intent on ensuring their careers donít dominate their lives ó a major philosophical shift from their older counterparts.
"Weíre viewed as slackers and as though we donít want to work hard, especially by the Baby Boomer generation, which I donít think is a fair assessment," Molatore says. "The Baby Boomers seem to be driven to make as much money as possible. I think our generation is willing to work just as hard, but weíre not driven by money. Our priorities are more about family or time to enjoy other activities."
Lisa LeSage, assistant dean of business law programs at Lewis & Clark Collegeís Northwestern School of Law, said Molatoreís sentiments are echoed by the hundreds of law students she interacts with each year. She sees first-hand the correlation between the way the Millennials were raised and how it impacts their learning styles and, eventually, their work styles.
"This is a generation that has grown up in a structured, collaborative learning environment and has a team-building mentality," LeSage says, noting many Millennials were enrolled in daycare at an early age and participated in several extracurricular activities as children. "I think one of the things that is difficult for law firms is that this generation is seen as needing to be hand-held. However, because thereís this collaborative culture we have an opportunity to mentor in a way we were never mentored."
Because of their collaborative upbringing, law students of the Millennial generation thrive on interactive lessons and working on projects in small groups. Approaches to teaching have evolved as a result.
"We have to look at new ways of teaching things. Iíve taught for the last 15 years and my teaching methods have changed drastically," LeSage says, adding lessons are much more hands-on and often take place outside the classroom. "The substance is still there and I think itís made teaching more exciting than 10 or 15 years ago."
Technological advances also have impacted teaching methods. Itís not uncommon, LeSage says, for a two-hour class to incorporate video, the Internet, a PowerPoint presentation and a blackboard.
"Itís a generation that has grown up with a wide range of technology; they are very comfortable with it and they expect to receive information in a lot of different ways," she says. "I correspond with students by email and have found that it engages people who might not be as comfortable speaking up in class or may learn better in a different way."
The tech-savvy Millennialsí preferences are evident at Willamette Universityís law school as well.
"We have a really nice resource library that is filled with books, magazines and other printed materials, and they donít use it. If they canít find it on the Internet, then they come to me and I recommend a book," says Phylis Myles, the law schoolís director of career services.
While previous generations of attorneys hoped to join large firms upon graduation, many Millennials are loaded with debt and see working for a large firm as a stepping stone that allows them to pay off student loans and gain experience to increase their marketability. They hope to eventually move on to smaller and mid-sized firms, nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Working in a large firm means adjustments ó and challenges ó for some young associates, Myles says.
"I worry about burnout during that commitment. Some people thrive in that environment and do well there, but if they arenít meant for that, it may be really difficult for them," she says.
Law students at the University of Oregon, while often voicing their desire for better life/work balance, realize quickly they must temper their expectations with economic realities, says Jane Steckbeck, assistant director for career services.
"I hear students talk about quality of life and not wanting to work a 90-hour work week, as they put it. I donít see that they are able to do that in reality, but this group wants to make that happen for themselves," she says. "For many students, when they look at their debt load their eyes go wide and they say, ĎOh my God, Iíll take whatever job I can get.í"
Regardless of where they work, todayís younger associates seem to crave more opportunities for professional development and community service. They also donít hesitate to explore career options if they arenít satisfied.
"This generation is very open to change and may not even be in law for their whole life, let alone with the same law firm. It used to be that you joined a firm and worked there for 30 or 40 years. That is not the way young attorneys see it today," says Lewis & Clarkís LeSage.
For law firms, the erosion of employee loyalty is one of several challenges they face when it comes to new associates.
"From the firmís perspective that is difficult because we really try to invest in our associates with the idea that one day they will be a partner. When that doesnít turn out to be the fact, itís very disruptive. Turnover isnít the greatest thing, but we deal with it," says Mary Ann Frantz, a partner at Miller Nash.
However, firms can decrease such defections by offering a range of opportunities and training exercises so younger associates constantly learn and hone their skills, says LeSage. "I think law firms also can enlist these new associates in the governance of the firm and in the retention of clients and other associates. The firms that recognize that are on the cutting edge."
Miller Nash, Tonkin Torp and Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt are among the large Portland firms that have recognized the shift in generational attitudes and addressed the differences by offering more formalized professional development programs. These include mentoring opportunities, in-house CLE courses and business training workshops. Such investments aim to cultivate a new cadre of leaders, despite the trend away from long-term commitments on the part of new associates.
"Over time you can kind of see if itís going to work out or not, but weíre always striving to help people realize their full potential," Frantz says.
Loree Devery, Tonkin Torpís manager of attorney recruiting and professional development, says she also has witnessed changes in how the firm encourages its associates to grow.
"We really try to teach what it means to be a lawyer and how to grow as a lawyer by creating success and satisfaction in your career. If lawyers feel the firm is invested in their career and professional development, they will be less likely to take their skills and talents to another firm or organization," she says.
The firm also utilizes its pro bono program as a key recruiting tool for the growing number of law school graduates interested in such opportunities.
"Students see a law firmís commitment to pro bono not only as a way to give back to the community but as a way to give lawyers experience they might not otherwise get. Itís a great learning opportunity," Devery says.
Mark Long, managing partner at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, says the firmís professional development leader works with younger associates on topics ranging from how to optimize their advancement within the firm to negotiating office politics. The firm also attempts to provide young associates with mentorship opportunities through interaction with partners and transparency in operations, he says.
"Being in an organization that is growing is a challenge to anyone who wants to feel like a part of that organization. Weíve always had an emphasis on substantive training in the form of CLEs or seminars, and now thatís split with more in-house practical training," Long says. "Itís a journey and weíre learning as we go."
Just as law firms are seeking ways to accommodate new work styles and priorities, the Oregon State Barís New Lawyers Division has made adjustments as well. The Millennialsí desire for a better life/work balance has impacted not only the way young associates approach their work, but also their community service.
"Younger lawyers have always been a great source of volunteer energy, but even the way they volunteer is shifting," says Christine Meadows, the divisionís chair and a shareholder at Jordan Schrader. "They want to be much more directly involved in service, so they would rather work directly with a family in need than serve on a board that helps families in need."
And, because time is such a valuable commodity, the New Lawyers Division has adjusted its expectations for participation.
"We have more people participating on a project-by-project basis, and thereís been much more of a shift to meetings that address projects instead of meeting every month no matter whatís going on," Meadows says. "People feel like their time is being spent in a very productive and valuable way rather than having regular meetings like we did in the past."
In addition, younger volunteers are very motivated and want to get to work on a project immediately rather than spending a lot of time meeting about it. "Trying to keep them engaged so they donít lose interest is always a challenge," Meadows says.
Opportunities to interact with people who are culturally diverse is another key priority for Millennials, according to Paul Burton, a former Portland attorney who now serves as a professional development consultant for other law firms.
"They are the most culturally diverse group ever, and 92 percent say they have friends of another race ó not acquaintances, but friends," he says. "Their global viewpoint also is much broader because they grew up with the Internet."
While the generational differences between the Millennials and their older counterparts may seem to divide them into separate worlds, generational traits tend to be cyclical and the Millennials bear a striking resemblance to the "GI Generation" born during the early 1900s, Burton says.
"This generation will mimic the GI Generation in many ways, and itís already happening. This generation has seen war and its kids are being killed in the war," he says. "They also have a lot of institutional trust and have far more respect for leadership than their predecessors, so they will be looking to firms for guidance in their practice."
Firms can successfully bridge the generation gap by providing such guidance for a generation that values opportunities for mentorship, collaboration and innovative ways to balance personal and professional interests.
Meet the Millennials and youíre likely to find they may not be too keen on joining your committee, but they thrive on opportunities to make a difference. If you want to get them information quickly send an e-mail (98 percent check messages at least daily), and theyíre more apt to look for information online than in a physical library. They care less about whoís speaking at a CLE than the programís cost and convenience. A recent OSB member survey illustrates several differences between younger associates and their older counterparts.
The newest bar members place considerably greater importance than older lawyers on:
- Addressing the need for free legal services for poor and middle-income people;
- Increasing diversity in the legal profession;
- Preserving judicial independence.
On the other hand, the Millennials are less concerned than older lawyers about:
- The image of the profession;
- The impact of technology on the profession;
- The issue of whether there are too many lawyers in the profession.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melody Finnemore is a Portland-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.
© 2005 Melody Finnemore