|Collaborating Across Generations: The Real Mandate for the Legal Profession's Future|
The Millennial Generation will force a dramatic reshaping of the legal profession's style and priorities
By Douglas Richardson
The debate about the impending rise to power of the Millennial Generation in the legal profession - as everywhere else in human society - is analogous to the debate about global warming. There are those in denial who ridicule it as a non-issue, a tempest in a teapot. Others argue that those presently in power should mobilize their power and resources to combat a paradigm shift that threatens the comfort and security of "the old days." And then there are the pragmatists and realists who say we'd be better off preparing right now for an inevitable future where our coastlines are twelve feet under water and half of the earth's species have been parboiled and gone extinct.
In law, as in society at large, the trend lines are clear as the Millennials, the largest generation in history, careen toward power and force a dramatic reshaping of the legal profession's style and its priorities. No doubt about it: in the legal profession, intergenerational collaboration soon is going to be Challenge #1.
A recent Time magazine cover story depicted the entire Millennial Generation (a universe that obviously includes millennial lawyers) as a bewildering admixture of rampant narcissism, naïve judgment, disconnected interpersonal communication skills, and a pervasive, overriding need for praise, juxtaposed with an incredibly broad and up-to-the-moment knowledge base, astonishing technological facility, a well-developed ability to cope with change, and a strong team-play ethic.
One Wall Street Journal
column headline addressed "The Decline of Eye Contact
," as if for Millennials one of the most natural and automatic human ways of connecting with others is some kind of esoteric art form or specialized skill set. That article describes "FOMO" - fear of missing out
on the latest information and excitement - as the reason so many stimulation-seeking Millennials live with their faces constantly glued to their electronic devices, thereby seriously eroding social interaction. Another WSJ piece
(written, ironically enough, by a writer on
These provocative articles are cute, but unhelpful. Dismissive name-calling is not going to foster constructive intergenerational dynamics. In the legal profession, there is increasing evidence that the up-and-coming generation upon which the profession's future depends is becoming frustrated and disgruntled at all the wistful talk about "the old days" and the condescending attitude the Boomers and Gen Xers display toward them. "We are what you boomers and slackers made us," one young associate exclaimed in exasperation. "If you don't like the way we work, communicate or operate, it's your own fault. Do you expect the whole Millennial generation to get a personality transplant?"
Fortunately, other trend lines in the legal profession may ameliorate intergenerational disconnects and consign verbal jousting about "Old Days vs. New Ways" to irrelevance. There are more urgent operational priorities these days: rapidly-evolving globalization, specialization, and technological reshaping of the legal profession already has mandated a new core competency for all lawyers, at all levels and in all settings: Collaboration Skills. Increasingly, successful (and profitable) legal practice depends on the ability of widely-differing constituencies and stakeholders to interact and communicate more effectively than ever before - whether they like each other or not.
What this means is that in the future, the professional development function cannot merely focus on having senior lawyers teaching younger folks to "grow up" and act like older colleagues as quickly as possible. It means that professional development will be have be a reciprocal process where members of different generations candidly negotiate the functional implications of their respective styles, aptitudes, and personal priorities.
For this to happen, members of all generations will have to undertake some serious behavior modification and power-sharing, focusing more on what works than on what feels comfortable. Predecessor generations see themselves as guardians of standards; successor generations see themselves as champions of change. Somewhere in the middle - a middle marked by greater tolerance, flexibility and a serious commitment to diversity - lies the path to continued productivity and excellence in law's "New Normal."
|"Look me in the eye and say that!"|
Do potential clients trust you? Eye contact can make the difference.
Amongst lawyers, regardless of the quality of information or the integrity of the speaker, the chief cause of failure to establish credibility, create rapport and to build trust in meetings and presentations is poor eye communication.
If trust is the "sine qua non" of a successful lawyer/client relationship, then there are three issues for those who wish to learn to use eye contact as one of the powerful communication skills.
1. It's Not Your Fault. The majority of lawyers are less comfortable with eye contact than the general population. Decades of research show that most lawyers possess a prevalence of introversion, a lower level of sociability, and a strong preference to communicate in writing, compared to the general population. That said, many successful trial lawyers, mediators and negotiators are amongst the finest verbal communicators in our society - and they owe much of their success to their skilful use of eye contact.
2. It's Not An Option. The evolution of the practice of law worldwide has dramatically changed the type of personal communication skills required to be a successful lawyer. Consumers are far more knowledgeable and have more bargaining power than ever before. When all is said and done, clients choose lawyers who they perceive as most trustworthy, and that means most lawyers looking for business have to step up their game when it comes to face-to-face communication.
3. There Is No Time to Waste. Eye contact is the most powerful dynamic of human interaction and communication. You can begin to utilize and develop this skill immediately. There are three levels of eye contact: none at all, "scanning" (artificially making contact with listeners) and authentic, fully functioning eye communication (remarkably rare). Strive for the third one.
Transformational Practice: The Five Secrets.
1. Silence Is Your Friend.
Remember that all verbal communication begins in silence. The entire atmosphere of your meeting or presentation will change when you make sincere eye contact with everyone before you begin. Never pause for effect; pause only while you are diligently reading your listeners' responses and quickly finding just the right thought to share.
2. It's Got to Be Real.
Do not follow the advice of "experts" who recommend that you look at individuals for two or three seconds and then move on to another listener. This is "pretend eye contact" - audiences can tell - and chances are that you will feel even more self-conscious. Do not settle for anything less than your natural ability to pay very close attention to people.
3. Attitude Can Change Everything.
You may not feel comfortable with eye contact in a professional setting. But the fact is, most speakers, most "good" speakers addressing more than 8 or 10 people, seldom use authentic eye contact. Even a slight improvement will make you better than average. Start thinking about using eye communication as an amazingly powerful tool, which immediately will make you a far better speaker.
4. You Were Born with This Skill.
The reason that you will be able to master eye communication so quickly - and why it will transform your speaking skills - is that authentic eye communication is something that you have been doing since before you could speak! "Reading" your listeners' responses from moment to moment is a skill that every child is born with, and which precedes verbal communication.
5. The Master Technique.
Share your first thought with an individual in the group - and look at their face for a reaction - and then move on to the next thought, and share it with another listener. After an important statement, look at several people, one at a time, in silence. It emphasizes your point more effectively than speaking loudly. When speakers do that - when they are truly in the moment and making continuous eye contact, in order to read our response - the effect is transformational.
I hope you will experiment with this, beginning in "safe" presentations. When you fully experience the benefits, your use of eye contact will make you a more comfortable, more effective and trustworthy speaker.
Contact the author, John Plank
|Guide to Breakout Facilitation
Following a few guidelines can increase the effectiveness of breakout groups at retreats and workshops
by Gerry Riskin
Many law firm retreats and workshops include breakout groups for the purpose of acting as brain trusts for the firm, and conceiving options and alternatives that are actionable. The Achilles' heel for many such breakout groups is that they may be led by a lawyer who has no idea as to the subtleties of facilitation.
The fundamental objective of the breakout group is to provide ideas back to the plenary that are capable of execution. It should be clearly understood that the senior leadership of the firm will be the final arbiter as to what actions are actually taken.
In meetings that I convene, I like to have a 20 minutes to train the breakout leaders, but for those of you with whom I do not have the privilege of interacting, here's a checklist of useful points:
- The facilitator should not impart his or her own views and ideas, but rather should manage the process and track the outcomes
- The facilitator therefore need not be the most senior or prominent member of the group; one of the upcoming members may be better positioned to do a great job
- The facilitator can capture ideas by making his or her own notes, preferably on a flipchart; when the notes are his or her own, the facilitator is typically in a stronger position to report with confidence than if he or she is reading the notes of someone else
- The breakout groups should be of a manageable size, let us say no more than 12, and the facilitator should ensure maximum participation by as many of the individuals present as possible. One approach I frequently use is to ask each member of the breakout group to answer a simple question in a phrase or sentence on a piece of paper. Depending on the sensitivity of the topic, I may simply ask people to read their responses, or gather up the papers, shuffle to redistribute them, and have each read by someone else. This only takes a few moments and ensures diversity of opinion rather than the domination of a few
- Another way to get more people involved is simply to say something like, "John, you haven't said much. What do you think about...?" This is especially helpful for those who may be quite introverted or who simply typically yield the floor to more senior or dominant members of the breakout group
- The most critical part of the facilitator's role is to ensure that people describe options and alternatives that are specific enough that they could be delegated as actions should the firm endorse them. For example, discussions about abstract thoughts like, "We should get closer to our clients," are meaningless compared to ones like, "We should create a hierarchy of our most important clients and prioritize our efforts with them. We should start that process by taking our top ten percent and dividing them into three categories, A, B and C based on the following criteria..."
- Reports back to the plenary from the facilitator should be strictly time-limited. Allowed to meander, the report can go on endlessly and the reporters sometimes ramble. I strongly favor an enforced time-limited process, perhaps four minutes per reporter, with a timer in the audience who taps the table 30 seconds before time is up and then continuously taps when the time is up. The role of timekeeper is typically regarded as fun and the participants will enjoy it. In rare cases, you can give someone permission to go on for a couple of extra moments if that is your wisdom, but I have rarely found extensions of time to be useful.
I hope your next event which includes breakout groups will be more productive based on these ideas. As always, if you have questions or would like to discuss your event (off the meter) I would be delighted to speak with you.
Contact the author, Gerry Riskin
Legal League Consulting, LLC
Dehli and Mumbai,
|At The Podium: Upcoming Appearances by Edge Partners |
Jordan Furlong June 20
State Bar of Texas Annual Conference: "The Adaptable Lawyer"
State Bar of Texas
Gerry Riskin Aug 07
National Association of Bar Executives (NABE)
2013 Annual Meeting
San Francisco, CA
Jordan Furlong Sept 26
Intellectual Property Institute of Canada Annual Conference
Jordan Furlong Oct 04
Afternoon Keynote Address,
2013 Futures Conference
College of Law Practice Management
Jordan Furlong Oct 16
Association of Legal Administrators of Atlanta
Jordan Furlong Oct 24
Continuing Legal Education Association of Australasia Annual Meeting