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CLOSING THE GENERATION GAP

Say so long to your comfort zone.
What you need to know
about managing the multigenerational law firm.

June 2006 Issue | Volume 32 Number 4 | Page 6
 

Perspectives

The articles in this issue address generational differences, and particularly how younger members of our profession will learn the responsibilities of leadership. The questions involved are significant, for the time will soon come when the mantle is passed to the younger generation.

There are many differences—apart from experience—between members of the younger generation and those of us who have been around longer. My personal favorite is “multitasking.” I visualize it like this: The iMac is on, connected to the ’Net by Wi-Fi; (at least) three browser windows are open and active; a Word window is open and at least two documents (on different subjects) are active; the IM window is also open and active; a cell phone is in use for a chat with someone else in addition to the IM partners; plus, there is an iPod at the ready. And at the center of it all is a 20-something individual alert to all of these sessions at the same time.

This is not a description of my workspace. I am of the it-is-all-I-can-do-to-pay-full-attention-to-one-thing-at-a-time school. But during six recent months when my 20-something stepdaughter lived with us, I came to know that multifaceted workspace as hers—at least when she was working in our house instead of taking everything to the local well-known brand-name coffee shop for some “peace and quiet.”

As I observed her in action, it was not the sheer number of windows or activities that were being moved forward that was so impressive. I, like most lawyers, routinely handle a variety of active matters. It was the simultaneity of the disparate activities that astonished me.

Some people I know have suggested that the difference I am describing is gender-delimited. But take heed. My barely 30-something stepson’s workspace is at least as “wired” as his sister’s. Likewise, I don’t see gender differences on this score among the younger lawyers in my firm or elsewhere—they all seem to function exceedingly well in environments that most of my contemporaries would liken to chaos.

Where do the differences between generations, real and perceived, come from? My own belief about multitasking, which I acknowledge is blissfully innocent of research and data, is that it is environmental and evolutionary. My work habits were shaped in the pre-computer era. Actually, I keep waiting for a computer that will work the way I want to work. Until that happens, though, the computer requires me to adjust my methods to match the way it operates. Put politely, this is not an optimal fit. Younger lawyers, in contrast, came of age with computers, the Internet, fast-paced video and more. Their very methods of working and thinking were shaped and molded by Windows and other computer-imposed structures. They are supremely comfortable with the (to me) arcane requirements of computer operating systems and applications. The fit is natural. And the work product is superb.

Jury consultants remind us to be aware and respectful of generational differences when we frame trial presentations. As the authors in this issue explain, we should also acknowledge and embrace the differences as we teach, mentor and develop the future leaders of our profession.

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