Radio-age meets internet-age: communicating across generations.

AuthorRaasch, Janet Ellen

An older lawyer wants a younger lawyer to return phone calls. The younger lawyer wants the older to return texts. An older lawyer wants to interact face-to-face. The younger lawyer wants to interact electronically. An older lawyer wants to see a younger lawyer well-dressed and at his or her desk. The younger lawyer wants to be casually dressed and working remotely. Have any of these situations come up at your law firm?

"A law firm can have as many as four different generations working together at the same time--and often on the same team," said Caroline Turner, lawyer and principal at Difference WORKS LLC. Turner helps leaders achieve better business results by creating inclusive work environments. "Each of these generations brings different expectations and styles to the table, depending on the cultural climate in which they grew up. Each generation can be dismissive of the traits of those who are older or younger."

Generations are strongly shaped by historic and technological developments during the first two decades of their lives. These lead to different values and approaches to work and the workplace. Depending on a lawyer's generation, there are specifics do's and don'ts to effective workplace interaction.

"When misunderstood, these differences can hinder communications and workplace experience," Turner said." When understood, these differences can be put to work to enhance the goals of the law firm."


"The four generations are typically referred to as Traditional, Boomer, Gen X and Millennial," Turner said. "These are generalizations. Obviously, many of your lawyers come to you from the cusp or transition point of two generations and will exhibit mixed traits."

Traditionals were born before 1946. Many law firms still have a number of Traditionals showing up at the office every day. Transformative events that took place during the formative years of traditionals include Prohibition, the crash of the stock market, the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, the New Deal and two World Wars. in short, they grew up surrounded by a lot of jeopardy.

"To survive and succeed, Traditionals had to be frugal, self-sacrificing and hardworking," Turner said. "They learned to be reliable and reserved, to dress conservatively and to follow the rules. When jobs are scarce, you do not want to rock the boat. They got their news from newspapers and the radio."

In the workplace, Traditionals were loyal to their firms. "They expected to rise through...

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