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Comment: An open letter to Gen X partners and Millennial associates…

Dear partner,

We know there is a lot of talk about the new generation of associates, how entitled and short term they are, and that either you or a colleague has been talking about what to do about the kids.

Here is some advice: hire bright ones; give them good training; offer decent work they can handle soon enough to push them; provide them with partner mentors; and treat those that do well as valued staff and partners of the future. You may also want to make sure you hire a solid contingent of bright, hungry kids from a modestly more diverse range of backgrounds than where you’re shipping in the current lot. If you exclusively hire the highly privileged and highly educated, you’re more likely to get: a) an entitlement culture; and b) the absence of a healthy competition between workers with differing qualities. You may have noticed a decent chunk of your veteran rainmakers aren’t that posh. There’s a reason for that. Do, within reason, favour internal talent over external recruits. Loyalty goes a long way.

Do not: get carried away with talking to Millennials on social media or throwing around gimmicky tech. Don’t build an even bigger bureaucracy of HR that removes partners even further from developing associates. Don’t try to obscure your policies on flexible working to avoid people asking about it. Being clear on the policy will let everyone know where they stand and that builds trust, even if not everyone agrees with the approach. And don’t make up partners at pathetically small rates that prove the short-term interest of older partners are put above all else. It’s unseemly.

If that sounds strangely familiar, it’s pretty much what law firms did 20 years ago.

Dear associate,

There is a fair chance you pursued law because you are bright, hard-working and like structure. Statistically speaking, you are unlikely to be a risk-taker, hugely adept with numbers or a natural sales person. The worlds of finance and industry are not desperate to hire you because of your legal background, though family connections may not hurt. You can’t do everything or anything. You will fail at things. You will instinctively try to evade failure by avoiding things you know in your stomach you will struggle with.

For context, remember you’re very well paid and there is no per-hours-worked formula in existence to prove the contrary. Remember also that associates have consistently shared in rising wealth in commercial law. A lot is demanded because you get paid a lot, so there will be times to suck it up.

If you’re a male associate, the odds on making partner aren’t bad, what with those 60% female intakes haemorrhaging at mid-level, so do hope law firms keep their partnership ranks as hilariously male as at present and play those odds, boys. If you’re a female associate, you must like a challenge or are already planning that in-house move.

Associates of both genders, if you’re good at what you do, you’re entitled to have that recognised and treated accordingly. Even if you’re not, you’re still entitled to courtesy.

And to partners and associates: you’re largely the same, just different ages. Hopes, dreams and brain chemistry do not change in a generation, no matter how much tech you throw at it. People couldn’t multi-task 50 years ago with anything more advanced than walking and talking, and they still can’t. So try talking to each other as if you’re people. Or at least lawyers.

Read more in this month’s feature ‘Myths and Millennials.’