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July 16, 2019 Articles

Exploring Intergenerational Diversity in the Profession with Perspectives from the Bench and Bar

Perspectives from lawyers and judges of different generations on the changes in the practice of law and working with the “new” generational lawyer.

By Megan A. Haynes

Honorable Fredericka H. Wicker: Judge Wicker is one of eight presiding judges at the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal. She is a graduate of Tulane University School of Law and was admitted to practice in 1977. Before Judge Wicker took the bench, her career crossed criminal and civil paths over a span of 20 years. She worked as an assistant district attorney and later as an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting complex fraud and white-collar crimes before transitioning into civil private practice.

Honorable Kern Reese: Judge Reese is one of 14 presiding judges at the Orleans Parish Civil District Court, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is a graduate of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law and was admitted to practice in 1977. Prior to taking the bench, Judge Reese was a notable litigator. His passion for litigation allowed him to have a prominent and distinguished personal injury practice.

City Attorney Sunni J. LeBeouf: Sunni LeBeouf is the city attorney for the City of New Orleans. She is a graduate of George Washington University Law School and was admitted to practice in 2003. Sunni has had an outstanding and inspiring legal career that has spanned more than 16 years in civil defense litigation. She was previously an associate with Phelps Dunbar, LLP, and later became the deputy chief of civil litigation at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Senior Chief Deputy City Attorney Donesia D. Turner: Donesia Turner is the senior chief deputy city attorney at the New Orleans City Attorney’s Office. She is a graduate of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law and was admitted to practice in 1994. Donesia’s exceptional legal career has spanned 25 years in which she primarily practiced employment litigation. She began her career at the law firm of Bryan & Jupiter and later became partner at Koeppel Clark Turner, LLC.

How would you describe the legal practice when you first began practicing law?

Judge Wicker: When I first started, the legal practice was less integrated in terms of gender and race. Regarding gender, there was an absence of a female presence. Young female attorneys were required to show up first, leave last, and work the hardest. I thought that this was the norm at the start of my career. It was not until I began practicing at another firm when I started to realize that this was an issue in the legal practice.

Judge Reese: The legal profession was less diverse when I first began practicing law. In fact, there was only one female judge in New Orleans at that time, Judge Joan Armstrong. Former mayor and Judge Ernest “Dutch” Morial was seated on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal and Judge Israel Augustine was at Criminal Court, but that was it. Thinking back, there was a certain gentility to the profession. Practitioners were more courteous back then and less mean spirited.

Sunni LeBeouf: When I started my legal career, the practice seemingly was a male-dominated community of professionals. There was also a very close-knit group of young lawyers who specialized in various areas of practice.

Donesia Turner: When I first started, I found that the legal practice was male dominated. There were plenty of times when I would walk into a room and I was the only female present. The need for women was necessary to bring more stability to the practice.

What is your perspective on how the legal practice has evolved from the time you were a newly admitted lawyer?

Judge Wicker: In my generation, more traditional roles were reflected in the practice of law. In this new generation of law, there is a greater need to bridge the gap between having a full-time professional career while simultaneously achieving a work-life balance. Additionally, I feel that this generation is more willing to think outside of the box and attempt to take on the law in nontraditional ways. Lastly, this generation has embraced technological advances in their practice.

Judge Reese: In New Orleans, the legal profession has substantially evolved. The practice has become more diverse since when I first started. More women and minorities have joined the practice of law. I also feel that technology has enhanced the profession. Technological advances have allowed the profession to be more expedient. Yet, I feel that technology has simultaneously caused the profession to be much more impersonal.

Sunni LeBeouf: Historically, the legal profession has been a male-dominated industry. I do find that in recent years, however, the legal profession has embraced diversity and inclusion more within the workplace. I believe there are more women in leadership positions, but there is still room for improvement in the areas of diversity and inclusion within the legal profession.

Donesia Turner: The legal profession has embraced more women in the practice. I also feel that the practice has evolved with technology. There are more tools now to adequately represent your client. In addition, I find that the need to continue the legal education is much better satisfied than when I first started because CLEs are more geared toward the actual practice of law.

Are there any practices in the profession you experienced as a young lawyer that you would like to see more lawyers incorporate today?

Judge Wicker: One practice that I wish was incorporated into today’s practice is the ability to conduct research by flipping through the pages of actual books. Today’s research, unfortunately, is now all electronic. Although the advantages of electronic research are present, such as being able to get the job done more efficiently and also being able to adequately narrow the scope of the research, you used to be able to get the full concept of what you were researching when you were forced to look through the books.

Judge Reese: The era of technology has decreased the need and desire for oral advocacy. Courts in modern times have now completely incorporated the use of digital methods. All filings can be submitted online rather than walking it into the courtroom. I personally appreciate oral advocacy. I find that reading a particular motion strictly on paper or on a computer screen is somewhat cold. On the other hand, for me, listening to strong advocacy in open court can actually make the difference in the outcome of the case.

Sunni LeBeouf: An older practice that I feel should be more incorporated into modern legal practice is the concept of taking a more sophisticated approach. I believe there was more of a focus on professionalism generally when I first started. Even when there was a disagreement, attorneys still seemed to remain careful about communications with the intent of conveying accurate information.

Donesia Turner: I find that the attorneys of my generation had a stronger work ethic that I feel should be more intended by young lawyers today. When I first started, lawyers really put the time in in order to perfect their craft.

What advice or words of encouragement would you give to the “new” generational lawyer about the legal practice?

Judge Wicker: One practice that I feel should have a bigger presence today is mentoring. As a young attorney, I had the pleasure of having female mentors who helped guide me and were there for support when handling and approaching the legal profession. Thus, I would advise young attorneys to seek out mentors in order to develop skills and professionalism with the guidance of their mentors.

Judge Reese: Young lawyers need to be effective communicators. Thinking and speaking clearly is substantial. The ability to write is critical. I would encourage young lawyers to do everything that they can to improve and further develop their writing abilities. It is important to know that the first brush that the court has with a litigant is something that is written. Therefore, all written communications need to be efficient, coherent, understandable, and well done.

Sunni LeBeouf: Preparation and hard work result in opportunities. The practice of law is such an integral part of how our society operates. I would encourage young lawyers to continue to work hard because the need for lawyers is apparent. The opportunities for your practice to flourish are immeasurable when proper planning and dedication are at the forefront.

Donesia Turner: Hard work and dedication are the tools to success. I would encourage law students and young attorneys to continue to study and to always be prepared. It is very important to put in the work to get the results that you desire.

What do you think the future holds for the practice of law and the next generation of lawyers?

Judge Wicker: I think the future for the legal practice is promising. Law students and young practitioners are smart, interested, and aiming to please. The law degree now can be used in so many new and innovative ways, which embraces the concept of practicing law nontraditionally. I also think that the quality of someone’s work is more important now than it was when I first began. Employers are more willing to make accommodations because of the quality of that individual’s work and work ethic, which was not achievable in my generation. Nonetheless, I am concerned with the ratio between job opportunities and young practitioners who are eager for work. Student debt is steadily increasing. I hope that the future of this practice provides lawyers with opportunities to lessen the debt crisis.

Judge Reese: Young lawyers are the guardians of the gate. I am a little apprehensive about the future of our profession. Public officials blatantly announce the need to get rid of judges and speak disparagingly of lawyers. Society has developed alternative dispute resolution methods to avoid going to court. I feel that young lawyers have a responsibility to guard the gate, to protect and defend the profession, and to uphold the rule of law, so that we do not lose the essence of the legal system that we hold so dear.

Sunni LeBeouf: The legal profession is healthy and will always be healthy simply because of how our judicial system works. There will always be a need for attorneys. I also believe that the future of our practice is moving in the right direction.

Donesia Turner: Laws evolve, but the practice stays the same. I find that the future is bright for the legal profession. Young attorneys seem to be very eager and more willing to learn and take direction. The desire to adequately represent and defend your client will always be evident in our profession. I am hopeful for the practice.

Megan Haynes is an assistant city attorney with the city attorney’s office in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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