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Bridging the generation gap

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Melissa Ford, a partner at Bingham McHale in Indianapolis, considers herself a liaison between her mentee, 29-year-old Kevin Dawson, and the more-senior members of the profession. Ford, who is 46, remembers the challenges of being a new lawyer, and in the past two years as Dawson’s mentor, she’s helped him learn the real-life skills he needs to succeed as a lawyer.

il-bingham-mchale05-15col.jpg Bingham McHale attorneys Melissa Ford and Kevin Dawson cite their laid-back personalities as one reason why they work well together as mentor and mentee. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Today’s youngest lawyers – members of what has been called the “millennial” generation – have a different approach to work than generations before them. And relationships like the one Ford and Dawson share may be the key to helping attorneys of all ages appreciate and respect each other’s differences.

“Hearing older attorneys talk about the practice of law, it’s very different now than from when they first started,” Dawson said. “So if you can have someone who’s close enough in age to you that has heard those stories before and knows from those people what the practice of law used to be like – the differences between that and the way that it is now – it’s a great bridge to be able to understand and be able to bring those two perspectives together.”

Work-life balance

Ford recalled that when she was a young lawyer, her mentor was significantly older than she was. At the time, the term “work-life balance” wasn’t a part of the legal lexicon.

“When I started practicing as a lawyer, there didn’t seem to be much emphasis on the balance issue,” Ford said. You were expected to work. Where’s the balance there?”

Ford said that she thinks older generations had traditionally functioned with one breadwinner in the family, and whoever that was, was expected to support the family.

“That was the center of their day-to-day activity, and that was it,” she said. “And so if you were the person that was working, you were expected to be there and you were expected to be all-in.”

Attorneys who experienced that lifestyle firsthand – the long hours spent hovering over a desk full of work – may not easily relate to the modern-day working style of many younger lawyers.

“They’re very adept at maintaining communication wherever they are on the planet,” Ford said of young lawyers. “I think sometimes there are misconceptions, for instance, about the commitment and motivation of younger attorneys. That may have something to do with them not necessarily being physically located in an office at a time when somebody expects them to be, but they may very well be working.”

Dawson said he had mulled over the idea that the way he views a workday might not be the way a senior attorney thinks of a workday.

“If I’m awake, I’m working, or thinking about work,” he said. “So I might not be at my desk, I might not be physically in this chair working here, but I might be checking my email, or at night – I like to work late into the night a lot of times – so if I’m not in my office at 5:15, that just means I stopped to eat dinner, and work from 7 to 10, or 7 to 11.”

Dawson, who is not married and doesn’t have children, said that being accessible at all times doesn’t present any problems for him, yet.

“I think at some point I will probably have to carve out a balance. So it’s fine for me today – as I said, if I’m awake, I’m available, and that’s fine for now – but there may come a time where that might not be the case,” he said.

While technology enables Dawson to work remotely, he knows that it must have its limits.

“I hear of people who’ve been told that their Blackberry has to be off during dinner,” he said.

Jennifer Elston, a 34-year-old partner at Evansville’s Ziemer Stayman Weitzel & Shoulders, has to work hard at maintaining a work-life balance as the mother of a 3-year-old boy and 10-month-old girl.

“It’s difficult and it’s stressful, because you’re constantly pulled in both directions and you don’t want to let anybody down,” she said.

Elston said that if she has to work late, she worries that she’s letting down her family. But if she has to leave early to take care of a sick child, she worries that she’ll let down her colleagues. She recognizes that she puts that pressure on herself.

“I have never had anyone here critical of that – everyone here embraces your family,” she said. “We have partners here who work part-time because of their children. It’s only my own inner guilt – no one has ever made me feel guilty.”

millennialsTechnology

Dawson was 4 years old when he first used a personal computer. Ford didn’t encounter a computer until she was 19.

“It seems that today’s incoming associates are much more computer-savvy, and because of that, there are just some small things that happen that can cause a little bit of stress or tension.” Ford said. “For instance, today’s associates come in drafting their own documents. They’re very comfortable on the computer. And in my day, when I came on, we did not draft our own documents. We handwrote, we marked up documents, and we gave them to our assistants.”

But if seasoned lawyers expect new associates to work on documents by hand and give them to assistants for revisions, Ford said, they may not understand why a young associate hasn’t finished that task and moved on to something else.

“Ultimately, it is not necessarily a bad thing, because there’s much less turnaround time in getting the document out,” she said. “But it’s a different way of working. And ultimately, I think it’s probably better because the client gets the document sooner, but it’s just certainly different than what I grew up with.”

Dawson said he thinks that generally, most attorneys have now caught up with the latest technological trends. But people still have different opinions about how technology should be used in the workplace.

“For example, I’m very used to: you work on a document, and then you email it to someone, and that’s that,” he said. “Well, a lot of people, either because they’re busy or they don’t necessarily care for working with computers, don’t like to go through the process of opening up an attachment and printing it out. They want to review a hard copy. So, that’s made me think, OK, does this person want me to email this document? Do they want me to bring them a printed copy? Do I email it and print it out? So it’s a lot of little things like that – intergenerational work style, I would say, that’s the main difference.”

Dawson used to consult with Ford to figure out the best way to approach each lawyer in the firm, and he said he kept a cheat sheet on his desk to remind him who would prefer a hard copy and who would be content with an email. Over time, he learned to tailor his communication to each individual.

“Because people communicate differently, I think you have to know when a telephone call is appropriate, when an email is appropriate, when it’s time to go to someone’s office and just sit across from them and talk some things out,” he said. “I tend to like to do everything by email, and that doesn’t always work. It just doesn’t. So I would say that email has probably caused a few miscommunications – you’ve got to just pick up the phone sometimes.”

Tools for success

Elston’s first law job was at a satellite office for Bamberger Foreman Oswald and Hahn, working alongside Jerry Stilwell.

“When I started out at Bamberger, I started at the Princeton office, and it was just me and one other attorney. It was like legal boot camp, and I just learned so much from him. He told me from the get-go … you treat clients and adversaries with respect at all times. Don’t be condescending to people.”

Elston said she’s surprised at the number of young lawyers who come into the profession with the wrong attitude.

“We don’t run into it a lot, but there are quite a few people who think when they come out of law school that they have to have that claws-out attitude, and it doesn’t take them very far,” she said. But those are the kinds of lessons mentors can help mentees learn.

Dawson knows that a lot of the practice of law is learned on the job. “You don’t necessarily learn some of these skills in school, so I think it’s good to get some on-the-job training. Because I think it’s that, or you learn by making a lot of mistakes, which isn’t very efficient,” he said.

Ford recognizes that the transition from law school to law firm life can be quite a shock, especially not knowing the intricacies of how law firms function.

“I think the practice of law is more art than science, so I think the subtleties of having productive client relationships and productive relationships with other attorneys requires some finesse and some know-how and somebody to help a person make that leap into the law as a profession and into a law firm,” she said.

New attorneys should never underestimate the importance of forging relationships, she added.

“Be brave, reach beyond your peer group. I know I learn a lot from new lawyers, I learn a lot from more-senior lawyers, and I learn from my peers as well, but lawyers and people in general at different stages of their lives and in different situations bring valuable perspectives,” she said. “The more that you isolate yourself in one group, the less benefit you’ll have from all those perspectives.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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