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Jun 18, 2018

Thomson Reuters recently hosted a two-day legal forum that brought together various professional service leaders in the legal industry. The common theme was “The Changing Landscape of the Legal Profession.” Some of the key questions posed included:

  • How can you implement innovation and artificial intelligence?
  • How can you use financial metrics and data analytics to accurately depict profitability and organizational health?
  • How can you alter your way of thinking to implement change sans emotion?
  • How can you implement a succession plan and change firm leadership?

The discussion then turned to the always provocative: Millennials and Gen Xers becoming workplace leaders. The panel included Matt R. Burnstein, Chairman of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP; Scott J. Fisher, Managing Partner of Neal Gerber Eisenberg LLP; James Goodnow, President and Managing Partner of Fennemore Craig, P.C.; and F. Chase Simmons, Vice Chairman and Chair-Elect of Polsinelli PC. They all indicated that they had passed the torch to members of these younger generations. After inquiring as to the success of such a bold move by these firms, attendees came to realize that these inheritors aren’t actually kids anymore, but adults well-positioned to evolve and adapt to the changing landscape.

Interestingly, Baby Boomers are the smallest class of practicing lawyers nationally with 40% of whom are partners; Generation X has 50% of whom are partners; and Millennials have 5% of whom are partners.

Millennials are often portrayed as narcissistic, stubborn and power hungry. However, digging deeper the panel discovered that they don’t want to take over the firm, they just want a seat at the table and their voices to be heard. They are used to that by having helped mom and dad decide which car to buy or where to go on vacation. Simply having their views evaluated is a win for Millennials; it doesn’t necessarily matter if those view were utilized. Feedback is what counts. And that’s not say Millennials’ ideas are not revolutionary and innovative. The younger generation often sees a different path to get to the same end result. I’d call it, “Innovate with youth and lead clients with experience.”

As older partners look to ride off into the sunset, the group touched on passing the torch and positioning the next generation for success rather than irrelevance.

Some firms mandate retirement ages so that they have advance knowledge of succession timelines. This typically includes an interview strategy to determine how succeeding leaders can find their purpose to better align themselves with their commitment levels. Overcoming the psychological fear of irrelevancy can determine a large part of a new leader’s success.

Communication style also plays a hug role in leadership success, and that varies from generation to generation. Take the example of a golf outing. Baby Boomers might pick up the phone and call contacts, Gen Xers might send an email, and Millennials might text or use social media. The goal is the same. It’s the execution strategy that is different. There’s no right answer. It’s just a matter of speaking the same “language.” And with that, you, too, will realize the kids are alright after all.


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