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Law Practice Magazine

The Leadership Issue

Bridging Generational Gaps in Law Firms

M Suzanne Hartness


  • The central role of leadership in building a framework to bridge generational gaps.
  • To best serve clients, you must initiate a conversation specific to generational gaps and provide initial recommendations for bridging any gaps in your firm.
  • It is leadership’s job to discover and capitalize on each generation’s strengths. 
Bridging Generational Gaps in Law Firms

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Unlike any other time in American history, five generations are oftentimes working alongside one another in our law firms whether represented in the attorney population, legal support staff or both. Why does this matter? Purdue Global offers a few realities:

  • 2 percent of the current workforce is composed of Traditionalists, also referred to as the Greatest Generation;
  • 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age every day;
  • 65 percent of Baby Boomers plan to work past age 65;
  • Gen Xers will outnumber Baby Boomers by 2028;
  • By 2025, Millennials will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce; and
  • 40 percent of Gen Z wants to interact with their boss daily or several times each day.

Jay McChord, keynote speaker and subject matter expert working with many multi-generational organizations, was recently asked, “What have you observed as the greatest challenges or opportunities for law firms specific to multi-generational composition?”

McChord believes that there are two extreme challenges:

First is internal, and the second is external. The internal challenge comes from the recruitment and retention of top talent across five generations currently working side-by-side. The expectations of each generation, especially as it relates to leadership and communication styles and effectiveness, can potentially tear down the fabric of a law firm's culture. 

Currently, huge generational shifts are happening. Boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day for the next 15 years. Millennials are moving up to represent the largest generational cohort in the workplace. Gen X is representing the majority of leadership positions across the board and within most every workplace. Gen Z is just entering the workforce. With these shifts, law firms are struggling to navigate effective communications across all generations, structure workload expectations as well as how to structure attractive compensation and benefit packages for attorneys and staff.

The external challenge is recognizing that every client and prospective client that you represent is facing the exact same challenges.

To best serve clients given these challenges, you must initiate a conversation specific to generational gaps and provide initial recommendations for bridging any gaps in your firm.

Current State: How is your firm currently positioned?

  1. Which generations of lawyers and of staff are currently represented in your firm?
  2. What challenges is your firm experiencing at the leadership, owner and employee levels due to generational gaps?
  3. What are the important aspects of working with your law firm that are a priority for your attorneys and staff? How have these changed post-pandemic? How is your leadership responding?
  4. With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring daily in the United States, how are you replacing the institutional knowledge and client relationships associated with any of these departures in your firm?

Desired State: How will you know when you’ve arrived?

  1. Leadership understands aspects of working with/for the firm that will facilitate personal and professional success for its attorneys and staff.
  2. Leadership roles within the firm are comprised of representation from all generations.
  3. Mentoring is intentional and bidirectional.
  4. Recruitment and retention of attorneys and staff is a benchmark.
  5. Change management is part of the leadership culture.
  6. Succession planning is outlined and actively managed.

Bridging the Gaps: What is the best path to follow?

Most importantly, leadership must put together a framework to bridge the gaps. After all, if you don’t envision how to get there, your law practice may get sidetracked with such complicated issues. This article provides two initial recommendations to assist with closing generational gaps in your law firms.

Understand the current meaning of work.

In 2021, Sara Korolevich, The Good Hire, conducted a study of 4,000 full-time Americans to assess the meaning of work across the generations. An equal number of four generations were represented in the study: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z. Dr. Tim Elmore, founder and CEO of Growing Leaders, Inc., summarized these in his book, A New Kind of Diversity:

  • 83% of all American workers prefer a four-day workweek.
  • 57% of Millennials are very happy at work, making them the happiest generation.
  • 22% of Gen Zers are either unhappy or hate work, making them the unhappiest generation.
  • 60% of Millennials find great meaning and purpose at work––making them the most fulfilled generation.
  • Gen Z is the least fulfilled, with just 41% finding great meaning and purpose.
  • Gen Z is the least satisfied with work-life balance, while Millennials are the most satisfied.
  • Only 30% of Baby Boomer are completely happy with their pay, followed by Gen Z (32%), Gen X (42%), and Millennials (47%).
  • 68% of Millennials are happier working remotely, while Baby Boomers are the least happy with remote work (37%).
  • Only 9% of all American workers surveyed are less engaged and satisfied when working remotely.
  • Millennials lead the charge in searching for a new job in the next twelve months, with 46% of them planning to do so.
  • Baby Boomers are the least likely to be on the job hunt the following year (19%).
  •  Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers are most bothered by their boss or manager, while Baby Boomers are most bothered by insufficient pay.”

Bottom line, how would your attorneys and staff respond to similar questions?

Provide intentional pathways to unite.

In September 2022, Dr. Elmore wrote about the following “Six Ideas to Unite Five Generations at Work” on LinkedIn:

  1. Clarify your decision-making process to everyone. Perhaps the biggest challenge multiple generations of staff endure is who has decision-making rights and how decisions are made. Leaders must decide how this will take place and articulate it to everyone so there’s no confusion. It’s an agreed-upon expectation.
  2. Host an exercise called: “Ask Me About . . .” to discover each one’s superpowers. This is your team’s chance to hear from everyone and learn each person’s strengths so you can apply it to the team. Each generation has expertise to offer—you just need to find and capitalize on it. Give 10 minutes to allow each person to share their “value.”
  3. Determine communication norms. Often trouble brews between generations because of different communication preferences. It’s the leader’s job to clarify the “norms” you’ll utilize with all staff and faculty. We use Slack to help us stay in touch with four generations of our team.
  4. Pair up “modern elders” with “young geniuses” to invest in each other. I’ve encouraged “reverse” mentoring for years. It involves matching up older teammates with younger ones; asking them to swap stories to find common ground, then assigning them to mentor each other in a strength area that the other doesn’t possess.
  5. Identify what are demands, preferences and expectations. Employees may not have differentiated their demands and preferences. Good leaders find a way to help people distinguish between what they prefer, expect and demand in their job. When we do this, it clarifies who doesn’t fit the culture.
  6. Invite all generations to marketing and communications meetings. As you consider communicating with your stakeholders and team members, why not invite someone from each generation to the meeting to offer the best ways to convey messages to their cohort? Any idea you want to “sell” should be relayed in a fitting way.”

Bottom line, which resources might assist you with these initiatives?

In conclusion, I have proposed two initial recommendations to assist with bridging generational gaps in your firms: 1. Understand the current meaning of work, and 2. provide intentional pathways to unite. Recommendations that could also be considered include: leadership development and training, incorporating change management into your leadership culture, providing opportunities to share stories, ensuring succession planning for your firm’s leadership and client base and other transitioning resources.

"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” 
- Henry Ford