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Firms use mentoring to bridge generation gap

Members of the Baby Boomer generation, who have populated law offices for the last several decades, can teach the incoming class of lawyers much about the legal profession.

But those from the so-called Millennial generation, who have grown up using the latest forms of technology, can offer their own insights.

Mickey Maher, a partner with San Diego's Hecht Solberg Robinson Goldberg and Bagley, said it's important for attorneys, both old and young, to recognize their differences and capitalize on each other's strengths when working together.

"The younger generation, through their experience having used technology throughout their lives, can bring things to the legal profession, such as efficiency in trial preparation and negotiation," he said. "More senior lawyers need to recognize there's a talent there ready to be tapped."

In response, the experienced partners can then orient the next generation "to the more time-tested one-on-one skills that are necessary to be a successful lawyer," Maher added.

He said some members of the Millennial generation grew up in a more sheltered environment than Baby Boomers, and the work world may be their first time operating without a safety net.

"You get bright, young folks out of law school that have the intellectual capacity to be good lawyers, but haven't been exposed to situations where they have to make decisions," Maher said.

The current generation of lawyers, however, has learned to leverage technology into becoming more self-sufficient, according to San Diego attorney John Morrell, the managing partner of Higgs Fletcher & Mack.

"Their use of staff support is much different than someone trained 50 year ago," he said, "so there's a difference in how you work. But you try to bridge the benefits of both – using the knowledge of those experienced attorneys while recognizing the ways of the junior attorneys might be more efficient ultimately."

The best way to encourage collaboration between older and young attorneys, and close the generation gap is through the use of mentorships. Many local firms employ mentoring programs as a way to give young attorneys practical experience as soon as possible while keeping costs down for the clients.

"Law schools oftentimes don't prepare you for the day-to-day realities of practicing law, so having a mentor, someone to teach you how things really work, I think is very important," said Jeff Chine, a partner Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis. "You have an obligation to do it.

"I had terrific mentors, so it's important you carry that on and sort of pay it forward. It's important to pass on your skills and knowledge to the next generation, and I think it's good for business, too."

Allen Matkins puts a premium on mentoring. Val Hoy, a partner at the firm along with Chine, said it's was part of the culture of his previous firm and of the profession as a whole.

During the early part of a 24-year career at the former Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, Hoy was mentored by the firm's resident expert Bob Steiner.

Hoy has returned the favor to others and is currently acting as guide to Tim Hutter, a fourth-year associate.

Hoy said the mentor/mentee relationship shouldn't be a one-sided interaction.

"Today's generation, from what I've observed, is very efficient because of their familiarity with technology," Hoy said. "They can help me with things they are more comfortable with, so that's good in terms of document production and review. They're up to speed on that and don’t need a lot of training."

Lilys McCoy, an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said agreed that older attorneys can benefit from working with their younger colleagues.

"Those of us who have been practicing for a long time lose the ability to see things with a beginner's mind," she said. "Sometimes a fresh take is what's needed. There's no substitute for the combination of a multi-generational approach."

There are certain traits that lawyers of all ages share.

While the current generation may have different priorities than the Baby Boomers – like focusing on a more balanced approach between their home and office lives – they are still driven once they get to work, according to Hoy.

"The current generation is grateful to have work," he said. "It's tough to find work [in today's economy] and that leads to a very productive attitude about work and life."

McCoy, who also is the director of TJSL's Solo Practice Concentration & Lawyer Incubator Program, said mentoring is a necessary part of the legal profession.

"I don’t think it's possible for the younger generation of lawyers to learn everything they need to learn, with the depth and breadth they need to learn it, without the guidance of a mentor," she said. "You can get a lot from books; you can reach back to legal education and draw on that; but there is no substitute for having the opportunity to bounce ideas off somebody who's been in the trenches and been where you are."

Hecht Solberg's Maher said a key part of mentoring is helping the younger attorneys identify their strengths and showing them how they can capitalize on those strengths to develop their careers.

Wendy Behan, a partner with San Diego's Casey Gerry Schenk Francavilla Blatt & Penfield and a former president of Lawyers Club of San Diego, said mentoring can be especially helpful for young women.

“Exclusion from networks and lack of mentoring are among the most significant stumbling blocks to career advancement for many female attorneys," she said. "Many firms have tried to effectively tackle this issue by implementing a variety of mentoring programs, among them mentor-mentee programs, mentoring circles and group mentoring.

“Lawyers, whose mentors or role models help them learn the ins and outs of a large law firm or organization or provide behind the scenes information about organizational politics, benefit tremendously from this kind of one-on-one support."

Allen Matkins' Chine said mentoring can be a time-consuming process that isn't necessarily the most efficient.

But senior partners, who could do certain tasks themselves, make the conscious decision to give work to a junior associate with the hopes they will learn and become more valuable in the future.

"Sometimes it'd be easier to work yourself, but in the long run, it's not healthy for your firm," Chine said.

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