November 2018 | Around the ABA

New lawyers: Advice on bridging the generation gap

Three women, who received their law degrees in 2000, 2008 and 2012, respectively, came together to share their takes on bridging the generational divide at the office and finding work-life balance at home in the Summer 2018 issue of TYL. Here is some of what they shared.

Margo Brownell, partner and head of the insurance coverage group at Maslon LLP in Minneapolis, had been a journalist prior to getting her J.D. in 2000. “When you start practicing, everything is new and takes a long time to figure out, and you worry about whether you are getting it right and doing your job well,” she says. “There were senior lawyers that I knew I did not want to be like, but I didn’t see a clear model of a senior woman partner/litigator to emulate. I think it’s an issue for many starting female lawyers.” Brownell adds that her desire to be a good mother and a good lawyer made for a stressful combination.

Kyle Evans Gay, an associate at Connolly Gallagher LLP in Wilmington, Del., received her J.D. in 2012. She experienced the generation gap at the office firsthand while multitasking on her phone during a conference call with an older partner. “The partner assumed I was surfing the internet and shared his concerns about me with his colleagues,” Gay says, adding that she learned an important lesson about generational differences when it comes to the use of technology. The incident prompted an officewide discussion about how different generations approach technology while still practicing a strong work ethic.

Vaishali Rao, a partner focusing on regulatory and compliance at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP in Chicago, received her J.D. in 2008, and thinks the key is to recognize generational bias but not dwell on it to the point that you create your own barriers and obstacles to your success. “When I was first starting out, I had my guard up more; I thought no one would take me seriously because of my youth,” Rao says. “I spent (or maybe wasted) a lot of time being anxious over it.”

One thing that bridges the generation gap is hard work, she says. “I started focusing more on being good at what I do and finding the right people in an organization to support me,” Rao says. As a mother to a 3- and a 2-year-old, she finds it a challenge just getting to work in the morning. “A big part of it is just being honest about the struggle, asking directly for what you need, talking with other working parents and constantly reassessing who needs what on a particular day, including me.”

During Brownell’s third year of practice, she reduced her business travel and later worked part-time to achieve a work-life balance and spend more time with her kids. She worked from home when necessary. Now, as an empty-nester, she has a better appreciation of how to manage it all and encourages law firms and lawyers to do the same.

 “It is important for both law firms and lawyers to understand that everyone’s needs and demands change over the years as they raise kids and age, and to retain women (in particular), firms need to be flexible and take the long view,” Brownell says. “New lawyers should seek out an employer with policies and a culture that supports families and treats its lawyers holistically.”

Looking back she says, “There is no one point of career arrival, but just an increased sense of accomplishment that comes by showing up, putting in effort, finding a practice that you enjoy, navigating firm culture by avoiding firm politics and gossip and trusting your abilities,”

Gay advises young lawyers to seek out opportunities to build the skills specific to your field or practice area through pro bono work or professional development programs. “Expect to get pushback on these nonbillable activities and be prepared to clearly articulate how these programs will help you develop your practice,” she says.

Rao adds that new attorneys should surround themselves with people who have a passion for the law rather than those who will tell you the negatives. Take calculated risks, and believe you have what it takes to succeed, she counsels.

TYL is a publication of the ABA Young Lawyers Division