April 10, 2014

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Legal Community Discusses Paradigm Shift from Seasoned to Young Lawyers

By Rachel Madison

April 10, 2014

In recent years, the legal world has experienced some interesting changes, many of which can be attributed to young, recently graduated lawyers making waves. A group of about 30 experts in Utah’s legal community gathered together Wednesday during Utah Business’ annual Legal Roundtable to discuss these changes among other variants and challenges in their industry.

Curtis Jensen, president of the Utah State Bar and managing shareholder at Snow Jensen & Reece, said this new generation of lawyers, frequently called Millennials, comes with a lot of talent. He said because the industry is changing, technology is changing and globalization is changing, they are adapting quickly to those areas, but their outlook and approach to networking and groups is different from more seasoned lawyers.

Brian Hulse, partner at Snell & Wilmer, said one of the biggest changes he’s seen is the demand from young lawyers to have a better work-life balance.

“We’ve had discussions with our executive committee about finding a place for people to fit in who want a very different lifestyle,” he said. “Most of the associates we hire today don’t want to be [like us]. They don’t want to work as hard as we do. They want to have what they call balance. It’s a generational thing. Some of them are incredibly smart and they expect [us] to adapt to give them [a work-life balance] opportunity. You have to find ways to make them fit into your model, because if you don’t, someone will and you’ll lose really good people.”

Cathy Larson, managing shareholder at Strong & Hanni, said she’s found that money doesn’t motivate Millennials—but good work-life balance does. Because of this, her firm has tried to incorporate that balance by giving all associates mentors and professional development training.

“They want responsibility, and we want to give them the latitude they need so that they have a sense of satisfaction in their work life as well as their personal life. Long gone are the days you can throw out a bonus or decent salary and they’ll work hard to achieve that; it has to be something much more than that. We’re really in tune to that.”

Mark Gaylord, partner at Ballard Spahr, said his firm has found success with providing several part-time positions for associates.

“They get the ability to have a family life,” he said. “We’ve been very successful in keeping associates, although they are compensated a little differently at a part-time level.”

Gaylord said he’s also noticed that many experienced lawyers expect to talk in person to associates to give them an assignment, while the associates would rather text or email about the assignment. His firm recently did a study that showed the younger generation of lawyers likes responding with text or email.

“You can see that generational change and shift,” he said.

Although the way law firms run seems to be changing due to a new generation, that doesn’t mean young lawyers don’t have fears about the future. Many law firms have implemented ways to increase new lawyers’ confidence.

Annette Jarvis, partner at Dorsey & Whitney, said her firm has organized practice groups that new associates are assigned to. This allows them to be involved immediately in the business of the firm and with clients, plus they get formal mentors who can work with them.

“These incoming lawyers are used to a structured environment [in law school] where they knew what to do to get an A, and now they’re in an environment where expectations aren’t as clear,” she said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in the market and they need that attention so they know they are being fostered and taught to be successful.”

Many new associates also fear the sustainability of the firm they are working for. Kevin Pinegar, co-founder and president of Durham Jones & Pinegar, said because of this, his firm has made an effort to increase transparency of what’s happening when it comes to things like finances and major decisions.

The event was moderated by Jensen. The Legal Roundtable will appear in the June issue of Utah Business magazine.

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