Today, I’m bringing you my final recap from LMA14 – and while it’s last, it’s certainly NOT least! We’ll be looking at one of my favorite sessions from the conference, "Generational Marketing: Strategies and Tactics for Engaging Different Generations." Heather Morse (@heather_morse) of Barger & Wolen and Jonathan Fitzgarrald (@jrfitzgarrald) of Greenberg Glusker started talking several months ago about how there were four generations currently in the workplace, but no one was really looking at how that affects our external business development activities and efforts or our internal challenges. 

So they did. 

And in this well-researched, thoughtful and thought-provoking presentation, they got many of us thinking and talking about it as well. 

For me, it brought a number of "a HA!" moments, as I recognized some of the very issues among some of the attorneys I work with that Heather and Jonathan were referring to. Their presentation gave me not only a lot to think about, but a lot of tools to use moving forward. 

Interestingly, it doesn’t matter what year you were born – it’s about which generation you identify the most with. And we, as marketers, have to deal with each generational mindset differently in order to take advantage of the opportunities. 

 

Part of the conflict we’re seeing in the current workforce is caused by Baby Boomers ("Boomers") who are not retiring, while Generation Xers ("Gen Xers") want to move into their positions. 

Heather and Jonathan went through some of the characteristics of the various generations, beginning with a quick overview that looks at the generational timeline: 

  • Silent: 1925-1942; Depression; cautious
  • Boomer: 1946-1964; 79 million; idealism; experience
  • GenX: 1965-1982; 51 million; culture; entrepreneurial
  • Millenial: 1985-2000; 75 million; mobile; collaborative
  • Swipe: 2000-present; video; accessible

Boomers

Boomers are from a post-WWII time, their parents went to college en masse, and it’s led them to be very: 

  • Individualistic:
    • Eat-what-you-kill mentality.
    • Not client-team oriented (don’t like to share).
    • No sharing of origination.

To work with them, you’ve got to clue into the things that they enjoy – so maybe you work with a Boomer individually, while working with the rest of the client team collectively. It’s not that the attorney is being difficult – it’s how they’re hardwired. Meeting them where they’re comfortable reduces stress in the office, because you’re not going against their characteristics. They’re not going to conform; they’re too individualistic. So work with them in their comfort zone. 

 

  • Boomers live for today without a worry for tomorrow. 

In a firm run by Boomers, it’s not a surprise if they don’t have strategic plans. It’s hard to get these attorneys to develop plans, because it’s part of how they’re wired. They have a short-term mentality, and do little to no planning. 

  • Entitlement:
    • All attorneys should be treated the same.
    • Lock-step pay and promotion.
    • Resentment between service partners and rainmakers.

 

Heather and Jonathan noted here that these characteristics are not necessarily true across all cultures, because they are a part of how the person was raised, but they are true for the US. 

As marketers, if we understand what the triggers are for these partners, we’ll know how to set proper expectations or talk our attorneys down off the proverbial ledge. 

Heather joked that they wanted to retitle the presentation "Buy them the damn plaque." For Boomers, having the Super Lawyers or similar plaque means something, so arguing with them about whether or not it’s a good investment isn’t worth the battle. For the $150, buy them the plaque – it’s a win that starts to establish credibility and a relationship with them. 

  • Last characteristic of a Boomer: not retiring: they’re hoarding the business they should be passing down. 

Gen Xers

For Gen Xers, the two biggest things were being children of divorce and latchkey kids.  Their characteristics include being: 

  • Independent: they’re very entrepreneurial and they like to do things themselves. 

This is the group that will build relationships with the emerging tech companies, with the incubators, without being told to – they’re ambitious enough that they won’t wait around to be told what to do. People will start to send them business, but they often can’t get origination credits as associates. 

The presenters told the story of an associate who was getting business, but not origination. At review time, he said he wanted to be partner, and he wanted his origination credits back. The firm said he was too young, so he took his book of business to the firm across the street. 

The thing we have to realize about Gen Xers is that they’re the ones with the relationships, and our firms need to reward them for that. They need to start looking at that, not just making sure the attorneys work for a certain amount of time. These attorneys are going to start forcing that as they come into more senior positions.

Gen Xers want to be rewarded based on their merits today. Making partner and working 3,000 hours a year may not be what they want. 

  • Self-reliant: Gen Xers are not necessarily concerned with "making partner" and prefer candor and honesty. 

The presenters talked about a company that allows their attorneys to spend a month working wherever they want, as long as they’re logged in and working from 9am-5pm Pacific Time. If you want to attract the best and brightest, it’s not necessarily going to be those who will be willing to sit in the office. 

Many Boomers can’t understand why associates leave after three years – the reason is that they stay long enough to pay off their loans. Heather noted that to identify the "lifers," she walks the parking lot at her office – those associates who have bought expensive cars are the "lifers." 

 

  • High tolerance for risk: they’re ambitious, and they’re willing to try new and different things. 
  • Peer-focused: they like to work collaboratively (group pitches, client teams, shared originations). You’ll see this group on social media (and that’s where you’ll find your next group of leaders). 

 

Generational Challenge: Boomer Backlog

One of the generational challenges firms are facing is a Boomer backlog – Heather and Jonathan showed some of the managing partner statistics among the AmLaw 100, where the majority of firms have managing partners who are either in the Silent or Boomer generations (fewer than 5 are GenX). 

Before, the Silent generation would have handed off the work already, but now, with Boomers not retiring, there’s a backlog. The trailing-edge Boomers are suffering the most – they have a lot of fear and they don’t know how to bring in business. And the leading-edge Boomers aren’t retiring and passing on their business. 

Also importantly, if a Gen Xer thinks he or she is not getting the due they’ve earned, they’re going to leave your firm. There are 20 million fewer Gen Xers than Boomers. No one is doing demographics on law firms, so it’s hard to know what’s going on in the industry. 

Law firms are dying because the population is aging, but Millenials and Gen Xers don’t see a future, so they bail. Firms are stuck with older, seasoned attorneys, and there’s no life to replace them. There’s an opportunity there – work with Gen X and Millenials to start bringing them along, and help management to recognize them in the way they want to be recognized. 

Generational Challenge: Mismatch of Generational Leadership with Clients

This is important for more reasons than just the continuation of law firms though – Heather and Jonathan shared a slide that shows the leadership of the AmLaw 100 versus CEOs and GCs. 

In law firms, there are tons of Boomers in leadership positions. But for CEOs and GCs, there are more Gen Xers – the companies that we serve are already making the shift in leadership, but our firms aren’t. The panelists challenged us to imagine a Boomer pitching Gen Xers – there is immediately a generational conflict there. We need to coach the Boomers in our firms about how the Gen Xers are wired, because they’ll wonder why they didn’t get the business when they leave the meeting, and it could be due to generational issues. 

One of the issues that can come up is that Boomers like to impart their wisdom, but Gen Xers see this as being talked down to. So when doing due diligence for a client meeting, we should be looking into the age of the GC to find out what they’re interested and involved in, and how best to approach that person. It’s not about what the attorney knows – it’s about who can relate to the potential client or client the best. These slight changes in strategy and execution can make a difference if we understand how these generations work inside and outside the firm. 

Jonathan shared a story of doing just that with a recent meeting – he found out that the potential client was a Gen Xer and included an associate in the pitch team to meet with him. The associate and the client hit it off, and the business was won. An audience member asked what the associate’s role is moving forward, and Jonathan noted that he was recognized through his bonus and he’s now the central pivot point for that client. 

Generational Challenge: Our Place in the Workplace

Heather and Jonathan shared a slide based on data from a generations study done by Ernst & Young. The question that the slide illustrated was "how do the generations see themselves in the workplace?" The answers revealed that: 

  • Boomers see themselves as having a strong executive presence.
  • People see the Gen Xers as the relationship builders. 
  • Gen Y and Millenials are seen has having a huge tech-savvy, social media reputation. 

On that note, Jonathan cautioned that firms can’t exclusively let Gen Y and Millenials handle the social media – it’s a lost opportunity. If you leave the understanding of it to another generation, you’ll get lost quickly. For marketers, he observed that maybe they have a coordinator or manager who is responsible for social media at the firm, while you don’t know how it works. That person will see you as passe, and they want to be ambitious and aggressive, so they’ll look for someone who understands the technology. 

An audience member asked how to address older generations who struggle with adopting social media, and the answer was to show them success – show them someone else who is using it successfully, and they’ll want to do that too. Training also helps, using case studies, and working with one or two attorneys at a time and then broadcasting their successes throughout the firm. 

Heather added that she uses the LMA conferences to show her attorneys how Twitter and LinkedIn groups can be valuable. LinkedIn is huge with GCs, especially Gen Xers (who we learned earlier make up a larger number of GCs), so it’s important to understand how to use it to develop relationships. 

Generational Preferences: Communication

A tip the presenters offered us is that if an attorney responds to an email from you with "Stop by" or "See me," it’s a good chance that they’re a Boomer. A Gen Xer will prefer to write their explanation in an email, so customize your communications accordingly. 

That’s not the only preference that the generations have though: 

How they process information: 

  • Boomers: prefer face-time, the phone, and structured networking. 
  • Gen Xers: prefer email, voicemail, and some social.

Purchasing influencers: 

  • Boomers: are influenced by ratings and reviews (i.e. "Buy them the damn plaque").
  • Gen Xers: are influenced by personal referrals and peer recommendations. 

Tailor your message by: 

  • Boomers: testimonials, link messages to visions, mission, values. 
  • Gen Xers: direct, casual messages; utilize multiple platforms. 

Delivery devices: 

  • Boomers: smart phones and tablets. 
  • Gen Xers: smart phones, tablets and short videos. 

As a note, Boomers and Millenials LOVE videos – not so for Gen X (as a Gen Xer myself, I absolutely agree with this – I will only watch a video online under much duress!). 

So the key here is that you can’t have your message tailored one way – you have to tailor it in multiple ways. Three of the generations in the marketplace are decision-makers, so you have to reach them in the way that THEY want to receive information, not the way that you want to send it. 

Generational Preferences: Rewards

As with communication, each of the generations also has their preferences for how they want to be rewarded and recognized. 

Silent: Seniority

The Silent generation wants to be rewarded with seniority – Jonathan told the story of having some of their very senior partners do a video about the firm and its history. They were so pleased, you would have thought they’d won an academy award. 

Boomers: "Experience," Leadership, Rankings

If we help Boomers to realize that their roles are just changing, and not that they’re being kicked out of the firm in favor of a Gen Xer, everyone’s quality of life will be better. Reward them with experience, by giving them opportunities to lead, and showing them that you understand that rankings matter. 

Gen Xers: Merit, Technology, Flexible Scheduling, Results

With Gen Xers, if you give them an inch, they’ll force the door in and go all the way – they can change the culture of the firm. The things that motivate them are merit over seniority, not deferring technology, flexible scheduling, and emphasizing results over process. 

The whole concept of working 9-5 within four walls of a law firm will not work for Gen Xers. If you want to be successful, realize that they won’t conform to what Boomers knew growing up in business – they want a new way of working with their teams. Also, Gen Xers are more focused on how much work they got done, instead of how many hours that they billed. 

Millenials: Contribution

Millenials want to be recognized for their contribution, and they won’t play by our rules. They won’t necessarily stay at law firms. They want to know what goals they’re expected to meet, but not be told how to meet them. We need to look at what we’re offering this next generation – they’re not concerned as much with financial remuneration once their loans are paid off, so how will we keep them around and engaged to build the next generation law firm? 

Takeaways

  • Don’t label people based on their age: ask questions to find out what their generational mentality is. Look at their nonverbal cues and what’s in their office to understand what generation you’re working with.
  • You’ve got to know your firm attorneys and what’s going on in your firm. Where is your firm falling through? Also, know your clients and where they fall on the spectrum. 
  • You need different strategies for different target audiences. Having one strategy, you’ll miss about 2/3 of the opportunities at your firm. 
  • Prepare for change – it’s coming. We’re already seeing it in business, and we’ll see it in law firms as well, so don’t let it catch you off-guard. 

An audience member asked how much of the data the presenters have shared at their firms, and whether that’s resulted in change. Jonathan commented that it’s like boiling a frog – you do it one leg at a time. Start with a few people, and build from there. He’s discussed it with some of his practice group leaders to start the conversation. 

Heather said that she’s rolled out the slides, and the conversation has started. The partners who will get it will get it, and those who don’t won’t stay in leadership positions. 

So, Zen readers – what say you? How are you seeing generational challenges impact your firms and your client relationships? What steps are you taking to address these? 

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Photo of Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles…

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. In this capacity, Ms. Griffiths is responsible for the oversight and management of day-to-day operations of the International Lawyers Network (ILN). She develops strategies and implementation plans to achieve the ILN’s goals, and handles recruitment, member retention, and a high level of service to members. She is engaged in the legal industry to stay on top of trends, both in law firms and law firm networks.

In her role as Executive Director, she develops and facilitates relationships among ILN member firm lawyers at 90+ law firms in 67 countries, and seeks opportunities for member firms to build business and relationships, while ensuring member participation in Network events and initiatives. These initiatives include facilitating referrals, the management and execution of the marketing and business development strategy for the Network, which encompasses all communications, push-down efforts, and marketing partnerships, providing support and guidance to the chairs and group leaders for the ILN’s thirteen practice and industry specialty groups, the ILN’s women’s initiative, the ILN’s mentorship program, the management and execution of all ILN conferences, and more.

JD Supra Readers Choice Top Author 2019

During her previous tenure as Director of Global Relationship Management, the ILN has been shortlisted as a Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer for 2016 and 2017, and included as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network since 2011. She was awarded “Thought Leader of the Year” by the Legal Marketing Association’s New York chapter in 2014 for her substantive contributions to the industry, and was recently included in Clio’s list for “34 People in Legal You Should Follow on Twitter.” She was also chosen for the American Bar Association Journal’s inaugural Web 100‘s Best Law Blogs, where judge Ivy Grey said “This blog is outstanding, thoughtful and useful.” Ms. Griffiths was recently chosen for as a Top Author by JD Supra in their 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, for the level of engagement and visibility she attained with readers on the topic of marketing & business development. She has been the author of Zen & the Art of Legal Networking since February of 2009.