The Future and MBA Members: Bridging the Generation Gap

By Bernadette Dieker Nunley, YLS Futures Committee Chair.

If you practice law within a group - in a firm, nonprofit, or government setting - you may have noticed the "generation gap." Literature about the "gap" explains that generations have different motivations for working and vastly divergent expectations about how their lives and careers will develop. Individuals within generations may differ widely in attributes, abilities, and interests; however, generations as groups exhibit some intriguing problems for the legal profession.

In law, Traditionalists (b. 1925-1932) and Baby Boomers (1943-1960) lead most legal organizations as partners and senior attorneys. Generally, Gen X (1961-1981) and Gen Y (1982-1994) attorneys make up a much less powerful cohort of supporting associates and assistants. If you are a solo practitioner or a law professor, you may notice a similar approach within your area of expertise.

Perhaps you've noticed that generations as groups struggle with moving their legal organizations forward in a way that is responsive to all generations' goals and needs?

Seeing the "gap" as a real phenomenon, the MBA created a joint committee to survey members about challenges surrounding the issue. The 2006 survey revealed significant distinctions among generations regarding job satisfaction, expectations about a continued career in law, requirements for work/life balance and desire for leadership transparency and mentoring.

This year, MBA YLS created the Futures Committee to examine the gap from younger attorneys' perspectives. The YLS Futures Committee will present a series of articles identifying and addressing gap-related issues confronting Multnomah County lawyers. The committee will also highlight MBA members, firms, and legal organizations that are shaping the practice of law with innovative policies and practices to bridge the gap. The YLS Futures Committee hopes to collaborate with other groups on these issues, including the MBA Futures Workgroup, OWLS and the OSB.

To tackle our first article, we need your help. Technology is raging along at a speed that leaves most of us a little breathless. How are technology changes affecting your practice? Do you experience a "gap" between the way older attorneys and younger attorneys use technology on the job? Is your legal organization implementing policies that take advantage of new technological possibilities? For example, do you work in a paperless office? Do technologically savvy attorneys mentor attorneys who are reluctant to use new technology? Do you use social software (blogs, Facebook/MySpace/LinkedIn) for educating clients, networking or even hiring? Do you see a financial benefit or detriment to using new technology? Have you found ethics challenges as you change your policies? If you aren't changing your office technology, why are you choosing to stick with your current way of operating?

Send us your comments, policies, and ideas. Let us know if we could interview you and your practice about technology. We look forward to learning about and reporting the ways MBA members are responding to these challenges.