What is unique about the values of the millennial generation of lawyers, and how can they best be integrated into law firms? In this episode of Legal Toolkit, host Jared Correia talks to author and lawyer Susan Smith Blakely about her latest book, “What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge From Past to Future Law Practice.” Susan explains her discovery that millennial values are not dissimilar to those of The Greatest Generation”, and how this reflection of past values holds positive potential for the legal industry. They discuss the career expectations of millennial lawyers and outline the ways law firms and millennials can bridge the generational gap and work together effectively.
Susan Smith Blakely is a lawyer and author devoted to issues challenging young lawyers today.
Special thanks to our sponsors Scorpion, Answer1, Thomson Reuters Firm Central and TimeSolv.
Mentioned in This Episode
The Legal Toolkit
Millennial Lawyers: What they Want, What they Need
Intro: Welcome to Legal Toolkit, bringing you the latest legal trends and business initiatives to help you manage your law firm, with your host, Jared Correia.
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Jared Correia: Hello everybody. Welcome to another episode of the award-winning Legal Toolkit Podcast here on the Legal Talk Network.
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In this episode we are going to talk about Millennial Lawyers: What They Want, What They Need.
But before I introduce today’s guests, let’s take a moment to thank our sponsors.
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My guest today is Susan Smith Blakely. Susan is an author, speaker and legal career counselor. She is the award-winning author of the ‘Best Friends at the Bar’ book series for women lawyers. She is a recipient of the 2015 Ms. JD ‘Sharing Her Passion Award’, and the 2016 Lawyers Monthly Women in the Law Award. And with that she has won two more awards than I have.
Her latest book is called ‘What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge From The Past To The Future Of Law Practice’. Welcome to the big show, Susan.
Susan Smith Blakely: Thank you very much Jared, it’s nice to be with you and with your listeners. I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Jared Correia: Yeah, this should be fun. So I usually start out with an icebreaker question and here’s yours. So, I read on your bio that you’re a piano player —
Susan Smith Blakely: Correct.
Jared Correia: — which is really cool, because I probably couldn’t even handle like the triangle or the cowbell. So I feel like you should know the answer to this question, who’s better Billy Joel or Elton John, and then pick your favorite song of the artist you chose?
Susan Smith Blakely: Well who is better is too subjective, but who I like best that’s Elton John and my favorite and a song that I think it could be the theme song for my new book is ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’.
Jared Correia: Oh, very nice.
Susan Smith Blakely: Having said that, I would have to say that Alicia Keys amazing on two pianos at the Grammys, wow.
Jared Correia: At the most recent Grammys? I’m not a Grammys watcher but was this the recent one?
Susan Smith Blakely: Yes.
Jared Correia: Interesting, I have to look that up on YouTube.
Susan Smith Blakely: Oh yeah, oh yeah. She did two pianos. Yeah and I’m — as you said I play piano not like Alicia Keys, not like Elton does, but I love the instrument. So those would be my favorites.
Jared Correia: So better name for a piano player than like Alicia Keys, there’s no like the perfect piano player name?
Susan Smith Blakely: Yeah totally.
Jared Correia: And I won’t go — I’m partial to the 60s and 70s, I’m not going to back catalog Elton John on you, but we can move on to like the real legal pressing questions we want to address. So let’s talk about some of the books you’ve written, because you have written a lot of books including your ‘Best Friends at the Bar’ series about and for Women Lawyers.
Susan Smith Blakely: Three of those and then the new one, yeah.
Jared Correia: So three ‘Best Friends at the Bar’ books, so you can tell me about each of those specific titles and then why for you as the experience of women lawyer has been such a touchstone for you over the course of time?
Susan Smith Blakely: Sure. Those books all start out with the name ‘Best Friends at the Bar’, I chose that name because I think that all practitioners need to be best friends to each other to bring about best practices and what the profession, how the profession should work best.
The first one is what women need to know about a career in the law and that came out in 2009. In 2012, I published ‘The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer’, which talks about balance but also includes profiles of women that have left large firm practice and gone on to different practice settings, which I think is important for everyone to read about.
The third one of that series was targeted for law firm leaders and it is called ‘Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers’, ‘Top-Down Leadership For Women Lawyers’ that came out in 2015, and my new book ‘What Millennial Lawyers Want: A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice’, came out in September 2018.
So you asked me why I wrote those books. I wrote them —
Jared Correia: Yeah why the focus on women lawyers, because I know you’re shifting and we’ll get to that but you started out talking about women lawyers.
Susan Smith Blakely: Sure, absolutely yeah. Well because I am a woman lawyer and I experienced all the challenges that are unique to women in the profession from the time that I started practicing in 1979 until I retired in 2006, I was asked audiences not to do the math to figure out just how old I am, but —
Jared Correia: I won’t tell you when I was born.
Susan Smith Blakely: Yeah I know, it’s obvious the case, and by the time that I had practiced that long in so many different settings and tried to juggle having two kids and stay on my career paths and my husband who is also a lawyer was globe-trotting and practice it happened to be one of the largest ones in the world and didn’t leave a lot of time for co-parenting, it was tough. And I looked back on it, not with any regret, because I loved everything that I’ve done in the law.
But I certainly recognized that there wasn’t much that had changed in all those years and women at the time that I was first practicing and through most of my formative years in practice didn’t have any mentors.
There weren’t enough women in the practice. When I started practicing, I was the only woman in a law firm, only woman trial lawyer in a law firm of 25 men and me basically and there just wasn’t — there wasn’t the assistance that I thought that we needed to be providing to these young women.
So that’s why I became interested in writing the book and I wrote the first one and it was popular and then I started doing a lot of speaking and other writing and so I just went on and finished the series to really address all aspects of those issues or I hope I did.
Jared Correia: You got to have a trilogy that’s so like everybody does, so as like you are smart —
Susan Smith Blakely: Thank you.
Jared Correia: So your more recent book is on Millennial lawyers, some of them were female not all, why did you decide to switch your focus now?
Susan Smith Blakely: Well, I didn’t really switch my focus. I like to think of it as expanding my focus, because it still involves the women.
Jared Correia: Okay.
Susan Smith Blakely: And for years I would tell the young women I’m not going to abandon you, you’re still in my thoughts and I want to get this right. But I certainly saw a need as Millennial Generation lawyers started to enter the practice, there was a real obvious generational divide that needed to be addressed.
So that’s what I did and I started that book, really I started doing the research in about 2016, and the research really grabbed me about how different this generation thinks and so it led me to what I think is an interesting comparison about young lawyers today and seasoned lawyers and law firm leaders and leaders throughout the profession, and how we need to be responding to each other’s needs.
Jared Correia: Got you, and we’re going to get into all that. So before we get going on a deeper discussion of Millennials like how would you define a Millennial Lawyer? Is this like solely an age-based thing or could someone like me be a Millennial Lawyer?
Susan Smith Blakely: Well, I don’t know how old you are, so, and I’m not going to ask —
Jared Correia: Old enough.
Susan Smith Blakely: But yeah, right exactly, but typically the Millennial Generation is defined as those who are born between 1980 and 2000, that’s generally speaking.
Jared Correia: I am practically a Millennial, all right.
Susan Smith Blakely: Yeah, oh, are you? Okay. Well, you are going to find that it varies here and there on either side of that spectrum, but that’s pretty much it.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Susan Smith Blakely: So it’s mostly age-based; however, I’ve started looking a little bit into Generation Z lawyers, those are the ones that are born 1995 to 2010, so they overlap with the Millennials. And so, I think that a lot of what we’re going to talk about today also is pretty applicable to them. But it’s not just age, it also is values, and that’s what defines this generation so clearly and strictly from some of the other generations that predate them in, in the legal profession. But the size of this generation is amazing also. They are the largest generation since the Boomers, they are three times as many Millennial lawyers as Gen X lawyers that came right before them. And so just —
Jared Correia: Oh god, that’s insane.
Susan Smith Blakely: Yeah, exactly. Just by virtue of the size alone, this is a force to be reckoned with and it’s something that the profession really needs to pay attention to and I can tell you more about that later.
Jared Correia: Yeah, we’re definitely going to talk about that. And now perfect segue, Susan, because I’m a Millennial lawyer kind of, with a short attention span, we’re going to take a small break. Here are some of the things you should buy.
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Jared Correia: All right, thanks for sticking around, stay a spell. I’m here talking to Susan Smith Blakely and we’re here podcasting about Millennial Lawyers.
All right, Susan, so I think here’s like the big question, right, which is why we saved it for after the break. What do Millennial lawyers want and how does that differ from what prior generations of lawyers wanted?
Susan Smith Blakely: Well, generally speaking the research that I’ve done and it’s — I’ve done a research about Millennial lawyers and about Millennials, but I’ve also done research that is interviews, I think that that pretty much gives the full spectrum of what they want. They’re looking of course for a better work-life balance, they want a healthy work-life balance, they want something that includes technology that they can use to their advantage for telecommuting. They are savvy. They know that they can do their work any place that there is an Internet connection and they also have proven by their work products that those work products don’t suffer because they’re not being done within the brick-and-mortar law firm.
They want feedback on their work on a regular basis. They know that annual reviews once a year tell you how you’re doing are not enough, because it doesn’t give them the ability to bounce back to use what they’re learning to develop a better product. They want teamwork, they want collegiality, they want healthy law firm cultures, instead of what we’ve seen in the past. They want meaning and purpose in the work that they do including making a difference in their communities.
And one of the things that sort of underlies everything is they want respect. They don’t want to be in the office isolated, put into a small 14:52 setting or small office setting and ignored. They want people interested in their career development, training, and this relates to the work in the community I guess, but they’re very interested in pro bono work as well. They want to see the fruits of their labor.
Jared Correia: Got you.
Susan Smith Blakely: So in doing that they are very different than the generation that came before them. In 1990 we had a boom time in this country. We built huge law firms. We started to worship the gods of money, power and greed, and this generation, this Millennial generation was raised by parents who many of them were lawyers as well, or they had lawyers in their family or the new lawyers and they saw the effects of that type of culture within the profession, and they have pretty much rejected that.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Susan Smith Blakely: And so their values are very different, and so that creates what is the generational divide, so how do you breach that, and that’s what I write about.
Jared Correia: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. That’s a very interesting discussion. Of course I think the title of your book though kind of refers to the fact that these are not necessarily entirely new desires, and that other generations have exhibited similar wants and needs in the past.
So are there previous generations that have been like Millennials or Millennials like a smattering of certain values that’s from different generations?
Susan Smith Blakely: Well, the reason that my book that tagline is, ‘A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice’, the reason is because I saw a similarity once I research the Millennials and their values and then applied that to the profession, I saw a real similarity and a real reflection of the lawyers of my childhood, the greatest generation lawyers of mid-century, mid-20th century.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Susan Smith Blakely: And I can look at those values which were respect for their colleagues and their clients and improving their communities with their skills, priorities on time with friends and family. These strong underpinnings of honor, decency and professionalism and helping the underprivileged, and when I saw that I was able to relate that to what I was hearing from the Millennial lawyers.
So that’s the connection that I think that you’re talking about, and I was able to observe that as a kid growing up in the household of one of those lawyers particularly and those values stuck with me very, very strong.
Jared Correia: Yeah, well, that’s really interesting because I think for a lot of lawyers that I talked to who are not of the Millennial Generation like it’s almost a derogatory term. I think a lot of those lawyers also simultaneously hold like the greatest generation of attorneys in high esteem.
Susan Smith Blakely: Right.
Jared Correia: And so it seems like they are more similar than they are different. So that’s a really interesting take on your part.
All right, so let’s bring this forward and can you tell me why it’s so important for members of the legal profession currently, like as a collective from all generations to understand more about what Millennial attorneys want?
Susan Smith Blakely: Well, I mentioned to you before that the Millennials are such a very, very large generation and the projections are that by 2030 75% of the workforce in this country will be Millennials. So, that is a huge wake-up call to law firms to project whether their law firms are going to be successful in the future with this generation taking them forward or whether this generation is going to choose not to take them forward.
And the Boomer lawyers in these law firms today and many of the Gen X lawyers are going to retire; the boomers are already retiring.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Susan Smith Blakely: The Gen X lawyers are going to be retiring in not too long, and if these firms are not careful and are not, don’t pay attention to these values of the Millennials and what that means in terms of the culture of their practices, the law firm’s succession plans, they’re going to be on life-support and a lot of these lawyers of today in those firms are going to be depending on the health of the succession plan because they have got money tied up in the firm still.
So, the money is great — in the succession and keeping the name going and all of that is a great incentive for them, but also I think that there are enough lawyers out there who understand that the service aspect of our profession is being threatened at this point and we’ve got to defend against those toxic law firm cultures to get back to basics.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Susan Smith Blakely: And so I think it’s really a dual concern.
Jared Correia: That’s good points, and thanks so much Susan, this has been a very good show so far. Let’s generate a pause though before we come back for Part 3. While I look for the pennies in my Penny Loafers, listen to some more words from our sponsors.
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Jared Correia: Hey thanks for coming back again. I hope you enjoyed your macaroni soup, I know I did. Thank You Susan. Thank You listeners. Thanks everybody. Now let’s get back to our conversation with Susan Smith Blakely, who is talking to me about Millennial lawyers, what do they want, what do they need, let’s find out.
You just talked before the break about the needs Millennial lawyers have in terms of like their career expectations and how important it is for law firms to try to meet those needs. $60,000 question, our law firm is meeting those needs currently?
Susan Smith Blakely: Well I think the good news is that they’re starting to Jared, I should also say that in the work that I do I don’t just tell Millennials okay, your values are all so sound and so you should get everything you want because that is not the case. They have to have realistic expectations and I discuss all that with them in the book and when I speak to them.
So I think that the interest in this book certainly demonstrates that law firms are starting to pay more attention to these things. I’ve got some very, very high-level endorsers in terms of firms and lawyers for this book. The book launch was just in Chicago at Kirkland & Ellis and that says a lot to me in terms of what kind of muscle they’re going to put behind addressing these issues.
They’ve started to adopt policies, many of the large firms where most of these real problems reside, they have started to adopt policies about work/life balance and family issues. They are examining their culture issues and how best to treat lawyers to get the most out of them. They are understanding that respect is right at the base of most of what they need to be looking at and as we talked before they also know that there is a big risk to ignoring the generational divide but having said that there’s a lot more progress that needs to be made.
And I certainly argue in the book that we need to return to some of the these past values that I’ve talked about before, but I want your listeners to also know that I’m not Pollyanna here. I know that we are now in a global environment and most of these big firms are global firms.
So I’m not suggesting that we go back to the Stone Age but I’m suggesting that the underlying values that we need to be going back to are consistent and that they can be honored in this new environment.
Jared Correia: Yeah. No, I think that’s a good approach, it’s a balanced approach certainly. And so one question I have is like lawyers are one thing right but then like a law firm, especially larger law firms are made up of more people than just lawyers, there’s a number of support staff, isn’t there anything law firms should be doing to better assist their support staff who are Millennials?
Susan Smith Blakely: Well I think definitely, and again I think it all starts out with respect. Respect for the person, dignifying what that person does within the realms of the halls of the law firm and understanding that all of the people that work to support you have personal lives, have circumstances that have to be addressed and that you do the best you can to recognize those are those.
It can be done without sacrificing the product. Lots of times there are things in law firms that I was there enough to know that are nothing but false deadlines.
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Susan Smith Blakely: That clients are people too. Clients can understand that if there was some kind of a need that had to be addressed, I think your clients actually will like you better in some respect, because you have paid attention to that.
Jared Correia: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. There is a great way to spend this. So can you tell me what your favorite story is from your most recent book on Millennial Lawyers?
Susan Smith Blakely: Oh the stories, yes. Your listeners should know that the first half the of the book is the research, and the second half of the book is the stories, and those stories are based on —
Jared Correia: I think it always lead with the research, right?
Susan Smith Blakely: Right absolutely, then people start to believe you, yeah. And —
Jared Correia: Yeah.
Susan Smith Blakely: But those stories are based on what I observed of my dad’s generation of lawyers. My dad was one of them in that mid twentieth century, the greatest generations of lawyers, and it’s hard for me to choose a favorite there, because again, they are all based upon those underlying concepts of equity and community service and giving back to the less fortunate, family values, respect for people across the board.
So if I had to choose one of them however, there is one called ‘The Man Called Bud’, that was first written by me as part of a law review article, that was published in 1980 in the Ohio State Law Review. And it’s the story of that demonstrates the need for respect, the need for helping our communities, through lifting people up that aren’t as fortunate as you are, and I observed this one very up close and personal.
So I guess if you had to read one, start with that one, but read them all, they are all different.
Jared Correia: Read all the stories, read all these books, that’s right.
Susan Smith Blakely: Yeah.
Jared Correia: All right my last question for you, you’ve written a lot of books on legal field, what book do you wish you’d written non-legal Edition, is it Twilight, the Twilight series or is it something else?
Susan Smith Blakely: No. No, no, that — any book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, I would love to say —
Jared Correia: Oh yes —
Susan Smith Blakely: — say that I wrote.
Jared Correia: Yes.
Susan Smith Blakely: Because she is the historian that teaches us all how the past informs the future, and that’s what I am doing in this book. Now I don’t think Doris Kearns Goodwin would think I’d do it the way she does it, but it’s the same kind of theme and I have always enjoyed her books and listening to her, because I think it’s so important to make that connection.
Jared Correia: Yes historical books are excellent; I’m a big fan as well. Now she was ‘Team of Rivals’ right, which was a great book.
Susan Smith Blakely: Absolutely, yeah.
Jared Correia: About Abraham Lincoln.
Susan Smith Blakely: Yup, Abraham Lincoln, yeah.
Jared Correia: All right. It’s a great way to end it, let’s end on that note, let’s end on the note of Abraham Lincoln, which I always like to do.
We’ve reached the end of yet another episode of the Legal Toolkit Podcast. This was the podcast about Millennial Lawyers and we’ve been talking about Susan Smith Blakely.
Now, I’ll be back on future shows with further insights into my soul, the soul of America and the legal market. If you are feeling nostalgic for my dulcet tones, however you can check out our entire show archive anytime you want at legaltalknetwork.com.
So thank you very much to Susan Smith Blakely for making an appearance as my guest today. Now Susan, can you tell everybody how they can find out more about you and about what you do?
Susan Smith Blakely: Yes absolutely. I’m glad you asked. My website is www.bestfriendsatthebar.com, and that will give you all the information about my books, about my speaking appearances, it’s got YouTube videos on it, it’s got links to go my Best Friends at the Bar Facebook and to my Twitter, and it gives examples of all the things that I speak about and what I have done that around the country more than a decade now.
So I would really love people to go there. You can also sign up for my newsletter off of the Facebook and my newsletter comes out six times a year to update people on what’s happening in the world of women lawyers and now young lawyers, some interesting things to think about and I think they would enjoy that.
Jared Correia: Thank You Susan, much appreciated, and thank you for coming on the show today. Thank you all out there for listening. This has been the Legal Toolkit Podcast where we dance like no one’s watching.
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