This column has already discussed how there is a generational divide in the practice of law. Some veteran lawyers do not understand what it’s like to live with student loans and might have antiquated notions about law school and other subjects. From my own personal experience, older attorneys also approach practicing law in very different ways from younger lawyers.
One way that older attorneys practice law differently from newer practitioners is that veteran lawyers are more risk averse than younger attorneys. Just like your investments are supposed to get less risky as you approach retirement, some older attorneys seem less willing to take risks that can potentially have a major windfall for them and their law firms.
At several points in my career, I have seen older attorneys refusing to pursue work that might be lucrative, but could be risky because of conflicts, malpractice liability, or other issues. Older attorneys might want to take less risk because they are closer to retirement and don’t want to endanger what they have built over the course of their careers.
However, younger lawyers are usually a lot hungrier than older attorneys when it comes to originating business. Newer attorneys usually have more of a need to make a name for themselves, and are more likely to originate lucrative business despite the risk. Of course, if you have more time before retirement to recover from a setback, you are going to be willing to put more on the line for a bigger payday. In any case, people naturally have different outlooks depending on how far they are in their careers, and this affects how attorneys practice law.
From my own personal experience, some older lawyers also might not see the value of electronic discovery and social media information as much as younger attorneys. Of course, this was more of an issue at he beginning of my career, when electronic discovery and social media case law was in its infancy. However, some older attorneys don’t have much of a presence on social media, and still might not see the value of electronic discovery.
I once worked for a seasoned partner who was well into his 60s. We had a case that could have benefited from social media discovery, since the plaintiff claimed injuries that couldn’t possibly be so serious if you judged him by the images on social media. It was difficult to convince my boss to demand social media discovery, and he kept calling Facebook “MyFace,” even though MySpace was long dead by this point! We eventually obtained some very valuable social media discovery, and I was happy I was persistent on obtaining these really helpful materials.
Older attorneys also have more traditional views about practicing law that younger practitioners typically have. Older attorneys, for instance. usually value having a fixed office that they can use to meet clients and out of which they base their practice. Of course, it is typically a good idea to have some fixed place where you can base your practice, and you definitely earn a certain amount of “cred” if you have an office.
However, many younger attorneys I know do not have a permanent office out of which they work. Indeed, many (mostly younger) attorneys use work-share environments and other similar arrangements to have a workspace without the burdens of traditional offices. As I have seen firsthand during my career, law firms can get into big trouble because of real estate issues, but some more traditional attorneys are less willing to forgo having a permanent office.
In additional, many older attorneys at firms where I worked valued traditional work relationships, in which employees come to work at a set time and leave at a set time. These attorneys value office face time and collaboration, and do not want to institute nontraditional work arrangements. I can understand why certain veteran lawyers sometimes institute more rigid work relationships, since some corporate clients require that attorneys be in their offices during business hours, and this is the way things have always been done.
However, working “9 to 5” is so 20th century! Many younger attorneys I know have instituted nontraditional work arrangements in which attorneys can arrive at an office and leave as they please, so long as they bill a set number of hours. In addition, many younger attorneys I know work from home and don’t even have a traditional office out of which they base their practice.
Still other younger attorneys I know have taken full advantage of the “gig economy” and don’t work for a traditional employer. Rather, these attorneys get paid for each assignment they complete and they can finish the work wherever they want. Working at one firm for an entire career was the trajectory of attorneys a generation ago, and now, younger attorneys tend to have more flexibility in their practice.
In the end, I am far from the first person to discuss the generational divide in the legal profession, and of course it is not fair to overgeneralize older and younger attorneys too much. However it is important to keep in mind that older attorneys think differently than younger lawyers, and newer attorneys should remember this when interacting with older managers. In any case, it is fair to say that veteran attorneys are usually more rigid in how they approach the practice of law, while younger attorneys typically embrace flexibility in how they practice.