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Message From the Executive Committee

June 1, 2018

Defense Digest, Vol. 24, No. 2, June 2018

By Christopher E. Dougherty, Esq.*

Talkin’ ‘bout Their Generation

Recently, I had one of those “senior moments.” I left my cell phone on the hood of my car while grabbing a few extra items before pulling out of the driveway. After getting underway, the wind gliding over my Honda Accord overcame the quickly diminishing coefficient of friction, and my phone soon tumbled off to an untimely demise.

Not being able to bear an extra hour without this lifeline to technology, I called our firm’s IT department for help. I was directed to Lauren, one of our IT specialists. Within 24 hours, Lauren secured the old phone’s data from hackers, and I was up and running with a FedEx’d new device. Every byte of contact, e-mail and other data were back in hand. It was not just her speed in accomplishing all of this; it was her attention to detail which made a mark on me. Lauren called me seven times over a 24-hour period, advising me of the status of everything—including various insurance and AppleCare options after perceptively appreciating that this might not be a one-time event for me.

Lauren’s “service” struck a resonant chord with me. She is a “Millennial.” She could have handled this job request in one of many ways. She chose to fulfill it in a way that I would describe as “old school/first-class personal service”—marked by initiative, competence and a warm personal touch.

Why do I mention this?

Our firm’s management carefully balances the need to keep one eye fixed on day-to-day operations to ensure we provide our clients the best possible legal services. At the same time, we look beyond the horizon with the other eye. We chart a course to maintain first-in-class service over the next five, ten, twenty years and beyond.

Our longer range thinking necessarily includes manpower management. When anticipating how to meet the needs of our clients in a rapidly changing legal industry over the next 15 to 20 years, we study which attorneys and staff are approaching retirement. We gauge what expertise, skill, client relations, community connections, and other intangible resources should be preserved and devised to the next generations of lawyers and staff. Then we ask: Are the beneficiaries of those bequests ready to properly accept them? Can they carry on the 55-year tradition of excellence that has been the hallmark of our firm? If Lauren is such a beneficiary, then I am confident about our future.

Who are the professionals and administrators who will be our future firm? They are the Millennials. In case you missed it, in early 2015, they became the largest generation in the United States workforce. In two years, they will make up one half of the global workforce. By 2030, they will constitute 75% of the workplace. They will be Marshall Dennehey.

I dislike the label “Millennial.” Individuals shouldn’t be lumped together under a label that is too easily slapped onto them. I don’t share the negative perceptions often ascribed to them.

Everyone has heard the various criticisms of Millennials. Here are a few:

  • They are entitled
  • They are lazy
  • They are “Trophy Kids” who constantly need praise
  • They are addicted to technology
  • They don’t know boundaries between the personal and professional
  • They frequently job hop if employment does not fulfill their “passion”
  • They are the first ones to seek remote work opportunities
  • Their career goals are different from those of older generations
  • They don’t know how to communicate professionally
  • They can’t take constructive performance critiques

 

I cannot debunk all of these myths here. I can only respond from my experience working with them at Marshall Dennehey. I will, however, address some of the more strident criticisms.

Millennials Are Entitled

The word entitled may be the most damning term used to describe Millennials. Some Boomers believe that Millennials consider financial success and personal happiness as “rights,” rather than rewards, and that Millennials are unwilling to sacrifice or endure hardship to obtain them.

We Boomers have to own the fact that we pushed our children to get to the next level, get into good schools, and afford them with substantial opportunities. They bring that background to the workplace. We can’t forget that they are the highest educated generation in the world’s history. Just look back to 1975, when only 50% of high school graduates nationwide went to college, 86% attend today. With that comes healthy self-confidence, which is often misplaced as entitlement.

We have another Lauren who is a senior associate. Lauren was one of our summer law clerks. She has been a consistent high performer and hard-working attorney for the past eight years. In the last four-and-one-half years, she married and now is the mother of two children under three. Her husband works at a good and demanding job. Despite being out on two maternity leaves, Lauren never missed a beat when she came back to work. Although her children experienced health issues, which challenged her schedule, Lauren has maintained a high-level practice without the slightest hint of an entitlement mentality. She never takes a shortcut.

What is motivating to us in management is that Lauren’s story is a common one among our younger female attorneys. Our younger attorneys are emblems of fortitude, commitment and professionalism. The entitled label just doesn’t fit.

Millennials Are Too Obsessed with Technology

Millennials display exceptional technology skills. They rely heavily on technology. We Boomers forget, however, that Millennials encounter unique challenges when they step into the workplace. At home, Millennials rely on social networking, text messages, Snapchat and Instagram as preferred forms of communication. E-mail? No way. Talking on a cell phone provides only a secondary backup.

When they walk into work, however, they step back in time, where the primary means of communication may be face-to-face, telephone or e-mail. Their workplace phone is usually connected to a wire. This means staying in one place for the duration of the call. These adaptations are ones we never had to make. Back in my day—and my parents’ day—people communicated at home the same way they communicated at work—i.e., letters, telephones, face-to-face.

The legal profession may be one of the slowest to adapt to the lightning-quick changes in technology. Our firm’s technology allows our attorneys to work remotely at any hour of the day from anywhere. Our attorneys can scan and e-mail court documents to clients on-the-go. Our clients appreciate receiving that information promptly.

As we rethink the nature of our workplace, the biggest struggle we face is how do we preserve and pass along our culture of unselfish teamwork if everyone works remotely? We will strike the right balance, and we will use technology as purposeful leverage.

Millennials Are Lazy

This category might be the flip side to the label above.

We Boomers and Millennials define the workday differently. Boomers defined the workday as being physically present in the office. We measured commitment by how early one came in; how late one stayed; whether one worked on weekends; how much time one spent “on premises.”

Millennials, however, feel comfortable getting work done from virtually anywhere. When a younger worker isn’t present in the office, an older co-worker might falsely assume that he or she is not working and improperly conclude that he or she is “lazy.” Millennials use technology to streamline organizational processes to make their jobs easier. Millennials view it as a logical way to boost productivity. Not surprisingly, misperception about technology serves as a catalyst for intergenerational conflict in the workplace.

If a remote work policy exists in an organization, it is true that the vast majority of Millennials will avail themselves of it. Yet, so does every other working generation. Most surveys disclose that Boomers (95%) are actually more likely than Millennials (93%) to use a remote work policy when offered. Contrary to popular belief, younger workers aren’t hoping that remote work supplants the physical office. In one significant study, millennial workers were still very much attached to the culture of the physical office. While Millennials have been often portrayed as threatening traditional workplace culture, in reality, they are looking to evolve it. I am excited about that reality.

Marshall Dennehey is currently evolving our workplace. Within employment law and Department of Labor constraints, we are studying how best to fashion flex-time options for our attorneys, para-professionals and support staff. Our technology should allow us to redesign the work day—one which permits attention to personal commitments without sacrificing exemplary client service and profitability.

Millennials Lack Loyalty

Research has confirmed that the majority of Millennials are interested in developing a long-term relationship with one employer. One study found that 54% of Millennials want to stay in the same job for their entire career. Contrary to misconceptions, they don’t want to “job-hop.”

While Millennials agree that they are more likely than other generations to leave an organization for another opportunity, the driving reason for such movement is not a lack of loyalty. Rather, they are more likely to seek another job opportunity if their needs for support, appreciation and flexibility are not met. Surprisingly, Boomers are more likely to leave if they feel they are not being paid fairly. Millennial survey responses actually indicate that 92% feel somewhat or very loyal to their current employer.

To me, this is more Leadership 101 than it is a generational divide. Loyalty doesn’t differentiate among organizations or generations. Loyalty is a quality of genuine faithfulness—to one’s organization, one’s seniors, one’s subordinates, one’s peers. Loyalty must be earned, and it takes time to build. It is built upon mutual care, respect and interest in each other’s welfare. Loyalty is a two-way street. If developed properly, it can take strong root in a Millennial as readily as in a Boomer.

We have Millennial attorneys in every practice department and every office at Marshall Dennehey—too numerous to mention here—with whom Frank Marshall, Gerry Dennehey and Jack Warner would have been proud to work. Their innovation, client-commitment, dedication and business mindedness would have been as notable in the 1960s as it is now in the 21st century. We have Millennial attorneys displaying enviable initiative as they form new practice groups; seek advanced industry expertise by taking the CPCU course; work toward board certifications in litigation disciplines; share their social media marketing skills unselfishly with others throughout the firm; give generously of their spare time to serve on boards for meaningful non-profit organizations; help indigents in need of legal assistance; study for and take bar examinations in neighboring states to expand our firm’s geographic coverage… and many other efforts which make the label “lazy” laughable.

Rather than being dismissive of a generation because they dress, communicate and life-prioritize differently, we Boomers have the responsibility to share our firm’s culture of respect, humility, loyalty, care and humor with them. More than anything else, those enduring values will position our Millennials to maintain and improve upon our firm’s tradition of excellence.

*Chris is Chairman of the Executive Committee, Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Director of the Professional Liability Department. He can be reached at 215.575.2733 or cedougherty@mdwcg.com.

 

 

Defense Digest, Vol. 24, No. 2, June 2018. Defense Digest is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2018 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact tamontemuro@mdwcg.com.

 

Affiliated Attorney

Christopher E. Dougherty
Director, Professional Liability Department
(215) 575-2733
cedougherty@mdwcg.com

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