October 25, 2021

Volume XI, Number 298

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October 22, 2021

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iGens: What You Need to Know About the Next Generation of Lawyers

Just as law firms are finally beginning to acknowledge and try to respond to the differences that millennial lawyers introduce to a firm, watch out … iGen is waiting in the wings to further stir up the mix. What is iGen? It’s another name for Generation Z, or the generation born after millennials.

iGen is the most recently recognized generation. They are cloud natives rather than digital natives, generally categorized as being born in 1996 and after, and do not have a first-hand memory of 9/11. Many are still adolescents, so their adult characteristics haven’t fully developed. But please do not take them for granted. There are currently more than 23 million iGens in the United States and, within the next five years, they will become the fastest-growing generation in both the workplace and the marketplace. Prepare to move over, millennials!

The “big deal” about iGens is that they are tremendously more diverse than any other recognized generation. They do not always define themselves by a specific race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or cultural imperative. Many of iGens’ parents did not define themselves via socially approved parameters so, they, unknowingly, created a much-more-diverse American culture. The iGens diversity will have a profound impact on employers in the coming years. Imagine a fully diversified law firm … that may be your law firm in the next couple of decades.

iGens are currently described in the social sciences as more self-aware, self-reliant, innovative and goal-oriented than their older millennial siblings. Their “life-defining moments” are still happening.

The key thing we know about iGens, at this time, is they are painfully aware of the Great Recession and how it affected their parents and their own lives. They are experiencing a lifestyle more similar to the baby boomers, post-World War II, than their Gen X and millennial parents. 

Other iGen characteristics include:

  • Student loan debt and its impact on their lives is an over-arching issue

  • Affordable healthcare insurance coverage seems like a far-reaching goal

  • They grew up with an African-American president

  • They grew up with gay marriage either being or becoming legal

  • They grew up with medical marijuana being legal in many states and recreational marijuana becoming legal

  • They know that 20-something entrepreneurs can become billionaires

How will we integrate this new generation into the generations that currently own or work in private law firms, especially for those firms that are still wondering if millennials will ever be a fit? Before we address integration, we should review the generations currently comprising law firms. They are:

  1. – Born after 1981, this group is often characterized as entitled, addicted to social media, tech-savvy and wanting to understand the “why” as much as the “how.” They need to be a part of the process as much as the outcome, and they want recognition for their contributions.

  2. Gen Xers – Their birthdates range from 1965 to 1981, and they are often referred to as “slackers,” impatient, skeptical and cynical. This latchkey generation demands freedom, responsibility and work-life balance. Interestingly, many believe that they are the key to bridging the generation gap, since they often encompass characteristics from the generations both before and after them.

  3. Baby Boomers – The elder statespeople of the workforce, or just the old folks if you’re a millennial or iGen, this goal-oriented and independent group was born between 1946 and 1964 and it is believed to have the strongest work ethic. In fact, it is often said that baby boomers live to work. They are competitive and focused on money, titles and power.

Although many firms are struggling with integrating the generations in their workforce, some have made great strides with the process. For instance, millennials want inclusion in the process and recognition for their contributions. Savvy law firms are now including them in client matter meetings from the onset, instead of having only senior partners determine a course of action and then assign research and brief-production to associates without the associates understanding the importance of their contributions. These firms may have to write off a few hours of associate time, but that is training for the younger attorney and an investment in the bench strength of the firm.

In addition, more and more firms are now giving middle-age partners—Gen Xers—full firm management responsibility and the authority to match that responsibility. Although Gen Xers have in the past been referred to as slackers, let’s remember that many of these individuals were latchkey kids: rising early for school and retuning home to an empty house with plenty of homework, sometimes younger siblings to attend to and dinner to start while their work-weary parent(s) commuted home. This group learned responsibility out of necessity and is adept at getting things done.

As for the baby boomers, those competitive, workaholic senior partners that built the firm at 60+ hours a week, 52 weeks a year, and are never going to let you forget it. Instead of griping and complaining that the old goats won’t simply go out to pasture, a number of firms are taking advantage of their invaluable institutional knowledge by valuing and incentivizing their roles. This group is money-motivated and their compensation should be geared more toward rewarding mentoring and turning over client responsibility rather than continuing to hold onto so many billable hours and client control.

Those insights bring us full circle to integrating future iGen attorneys into the mix. How will we do it? I’m going to take a page out of my colleague Paul Webb’s book. Paul’s article, “ABA Resolution 113: Why Your Law Firm Needs to Diversify,” appeared in the July 14, 2017 edition of the National Law Review and highlights our need to not only accept diversity in law firms, but to embrace and encourage it. 

As I said, iGens are the most diverse of our recognized generations. They will naturally embrace, encourage and expect diversity. The idea of promoting a firm’s diversity and seeking out clients that expect it will be obvious to them. It will be an innate part of their practice, instead of something they must think about and endeavor to achieve.

The state of law firm diversity now is frankly dismal. In Paul’s article, he noted that for the academic year of 2012–2013, minorities made up 25.5 percent of all J.D.s awarded. However, the U.S. Department of Labor recently reported that of all employed lawyers, 5.1% are Hispanic, 4.8% are Asian and 4.6% are African-American. Clearly, beginning and maintaining a dialogue about diversity in law firms is important.

To blend and integrate multiple generations into any work culture requires an open mind and plenty of communication at all levels. What can you do today? If you haven’t already, begin a communication flow among the generations in your firm. Don’t judge; just listen and take notes. You will be pleasantly surprised at the ideas each person or generation brings to the table. We are surviving our families of many mixed generations. Let’s take it into the workplace and listen as much or more than we talk. Good luck!

© Copyright 2008-2021, Jaffe AssociatesNational Law Review, Volume VII, Number 205
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