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Knowing of my work on inter-generational relations in law firms, several people mentioned the article, “The ‘Gen Y’ equation” [NLJ, Feb. 28] to me in the week it appeared. I am glad to see discussion of the topic and am compelled to respond and point out distinctions and a few contradictions. First, Gen Y lawyers have only been in the workplace for a year or two-not long enough to characterize them quite so definitely. Actually, the comments in the article sound much like those previously heaped on the younger cohort of Generation X: that they are lacking in loyalty and work ethic, are focused on their own personal development and want time for their personal lives rather than dedicating themselves totally to the firm. In the article, they are accused both of having little initiative and energy and of being eager to do higher-level and more creative work than they are given. If these perceptions actually are prompting “managing partners to rethink their motivation strategies and their expectations for their firms’ future” as the article says, I say “Bravo.” Saying that big salaries attract people who don’t want to do what the firm does and do not want to make the sacrifices those salaries demand, a large firm chairman observed in the article that many do not have “unbridled ambition,” and that being successful and a partner in a firm is not enough of a motivating tool. Maybe the problem is not the associates’ values but the salaries. I suggest that the firms got themselves in a bind by raising salaries so high that economics require all-consuming effort and hours. A reduction in salaries for those who want shorter hours should be an option-a “respectable,” not a stigmatizing, option. One significant problem is the lack of choices for both junior and senior professionals in firms. There is one “way we do things here,” despite the talk about the value of diversity. A mix of intrinsic motivations Associates need to be motivated more than money, but rather a mix of intrinsic motivations, such as some control over their jobs, continual learning and teamwork. Is unbridled ambition a desired value really? Think about the costs to individuals and to firms that have to deal with conflicts and revolving-door behavior from the unbridled ambitious. Some of the young associates have witnessed and experienced the effects of that behavior in their parents and know they don’t want to clone their lives, even if they are interested in being a part of the profession. They are not inspired by the way large firms are structured to work, with young associates given little creative work and client contact. (This is not a new development, of course, but has been building since the 1980s. For example, there are no small cases in large firms for which associates can take significant responsibility and learn as there were in earlier times. Firms don’t consider them economically viable.) Morrison & Foerster chairman Keith Wetmore’s comment, “It may be more in the eyes of the observer than in the associate,” suggests that some complaints of older partners need to be examined for where they are coming from. Is some of it sour grapes for all the hours they put in and what they sacrificed in their lives? Perhaps a significant portion of today’s associates ask, “Where is it written that firms have to increase profits (and partners’ compensation) each year by $X until there truly are no more hours in the day to bill (never mind sleep and have a personal life)?” Maybe they look around at many serial-divorced partners and say, “That’s not my definition of success.” And maybe many of the partners are wondering too what they are chasing and who defines life success for them. As you can see, I am very passionate about this stuff. We have no proof that we will have more than one life (though I suspect that I was or will be a cabaret singer in a past or future life), and it goes so fast (ask any parent). I do understand business economics and I am not suggesting that firms take their eye off that ball. It took a long time for them to get there. However, I think it is time to evaluate the cost/benefit of “unbridled ambition or else.” As an associate quoted in the article said. “After you make so much money, it’s enough.” Firms need to consider restructuring their work practices so that there are more choices for both younger and older professionals, even in large firms. It is one thing to have the attitude that “If they don’t like the way we do things here, they can leave” when it is a buyers’ market. But demographics tell us that firms need these bright young people who value the quality of their lives because they are in shorter supply than the baby boomers they will need to replace. Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational-effectiveness consulting and coaching firm with a special focus on intergenerational relations work with law firms. She is the author of The Rainmaking Machine (Thomson/West revised edition 2005).

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