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Legally Speaking

 

Issue: June, 2006
Author: Mary Angell

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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Wyoming’s lawyers span three generations: those well past retirement age, those not long out of law school, and the ones in between. As products of different periods of history, they differ in their lifestyles and work habits, but surprisingly, not when it comes to the ideals they hold dear. The attorneys who recently spoke with the Wyoming Lawyer all value a job well done, community service and good mentors.


Who are the generations?

A generation is an age specific segment of the population whose members share core values and characteristics derived from the societal influences and experiences of their formative years. Their attitudes toward life affect their lifestyle choices and the way they function as professionals.

Psychologists have broken down the generations living today into several classifications and made the following generalizations about them.

Traditionalists, born between 1901 and 1945, were children during the Great Depression and WWII, and as a result, are characterized as well disciplined, patriotic, loyal and fiscally conservative. Although many are retired or nearing retirement, 304 still practice law in Wyoming.

Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are the product of the post WWII population explosion and grew up in an era of economic prosperity. A greater number of young people than ever before were able to afford a college education. Americans moved into the suburbs and enjoyed a steady stream of new household appliances and inventions. This environment produced a generation of individuals categorized as competitive, ambitious and idealistic. The largest number of Wyoming lawyers--1,079--is Baby Boomers.

Generation X, or the Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1981, is characterized as independent and self-reliant because the majority of them were “latchkey kids,” raised in dual-income families. Having spent less time with their parents than previous generations, they feel a stronger bond with their peers than older people and a greater determination as adults not to be the workaholics their parents were. Generation Xers marry later in life and divorce less often than Baby Boomers. Among this generation, large numbers of women--and an increasing number of men--are choosing to stay home to raise their children. Gen Xers are also more technologically literate than previous generations because they learned to use computers in the classroom and grew up with the electronic devices their parents learned to use as adults.

There are 615 Gen X lawyers practicing in Wyoming.

The Millennials, the youngest generation to graduate from law school, were born between 1982 and 2000; as yet, the Wyoming Bar has no Millennial members.

Wyoming attorneys differ from one generation to another primarily in their view of how they manage their work week and their level of comfort and dependency on technology.


How do the generations spend their time?

Wyoming’s Traditionalist and Baby Boomer attorneys tend to put in more hours a week at the office than their younger counterparts, despite the fact they would like to spend more time with their families.

“You work your tail off to build the law practice,” said fellow partner Greg Dyekman, a Baby Boomer. “When you’ve built the kind of practice you wanted to have, you have to keep working it off. All of us older guys in the firm still work awful hard. We all love it. That's why we are still doing what we are doing. For us, that is how we are defining success: having a really busy serious law practice.”

“Unfortunately when you do that, you’re living on other people’s schedules, and that makes it harder to travel and play golf,” he continued. “It would be nice to slow down a little, whatever that means, but at this point, it’s pretty realistic to say that’s a ways off.”

Dyekman said he has managed to whittle his work week down to about 50 hours.

Baby Boomer Greg Weisz, partner at Pence & MacMillan in Laramie, said what his life priorities are and what he would like them to be are two different things.

“Number one, unfortunately, is work,” he said. “Family has taken a distant second. I’d like it to be the other way around.”

The father of two, Weisz joined the firm soon after Hoak MacMillan had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Weisz and other members of the firm took on a greater caseload in MacMillan’s absence.

“We were working 70 to 80 hours a week in 1997,” he said. But at 65 to 70 hours a week, his work week hasn’t eased much since then.

“When I started out, I was probably working 60 hours a week, sometimes more, depending on the demand,” said Paul Schierer, also a partner at Pence & MacMillan. “When Hoak got sick, we all kicked it up a lot. Greg (Von Krosigk, now also a partner in the firm) worked 80 hours a week.”

“My family would like me to say they are number one,” said Von Krosigk, father of two girls, age six and eight. “They are, in everything except time. Work takes precedence.”

A Baby Boomer with an 11-year-old stepdaughter, Schierer said he’s trying very hard to work only about 50 hours a week, but the demand is always there.

“The hardest thing for any lawyer to do is to strike that balance: have a life at home and still do the kind of job you want to do when you are at work,” he said. “My priority is family, but you can’t have family a priority unless work is a priority too.”

“When you’re starting out, you put in a lot more hours than you bill. It was not unusual for me to work on weekends,” said Traditionalist Bill Thomson of Dray, Thomson and Dyekman, who admitted to having worked both Saturday and Sunday just the previous weekend.

While some of the older attorneys still struggle to strike a balance between career and family, it seems younger attorneys come into the profession with a greater expectation that they will immediately have that balance, according to Dyekman.

“The younger they are, the more they expect the hours will be more flexible,” he said. “They know they’re valuable. They expect to get paid a lot, and it may not be proportionate to working more hours.”

Many attorneys choose government jobs or positions in established firms, which don’t require the long hours establishing your own law firm demands, Dyekman said.

“Maybe younger people have a better sense of what they’re willing to accept,” he said. “They just don’t get into the meat grinder if that’s not where they want to be.”

In addition to a certain amount of flexibility in working hours, insurance and retirement benefits--once considered ‘perks”--are also expected, he added.

The youngest associate at Dray, Thomson & Dyekman, Gen Xer Tim Woznick, said it may seem the Traditionalists and Baby Boomers are more committed to their careers, but that’s not the case.

“The young attorneys understand that to get ahead, you have to be willing to make that effort. I don’t necessarily see a sharp division,” Woznick said. “For me personally, I think it’s important to have a balance so you don’t find yourself at a point where work is the only thing going for you in your life.”

Gen Xer P. Jaye Rippley of the law firm of Brown, Drew & Massey in Casper, puts in about 55 to 60 hours a week and said everyone in the firm seems to work a lot, even though the firm does not have a minimum billable hours requirement.

“Overall, the workplace has evolved to the point where in order to recruit and retain people, you have to have some flexibility. People need that,” she said, adding that not having children makes it easier for her than for some of her colleagues to work longer hours. “It is important to me that we have flexibility with our firm even though I don’t need it personally.”

“For me, a flexible schedule is not optional; it’s crucial,” said Gen Xer Devon O’Connell Coleman, partner at Pence & MacMillan and mother of a six-year-old boy. “I have a family. I absolutely will not be a slave to my desk."

Coleman said because members of her generation strive to work more reasonable hours, they have to be more efficient when they are at work. And for her, it’s a matter of priorities and identity.

“I’m a Mom and wife first. Then a member of the community and an attorney lastly,” she said. “I love being a lawyer, but I identify myself as a lawyer pretty far down the list.”

Michelle Bush of Dray, Thomson & Dyekman said a flexible schedule is extremely important. The mother of two--most likely three by press time--and wife of a pilot, she needs flexible hours so she can maintain her career and give her family the attention it needs. After the baby is born, she’s going to work three days a week.

“For the older generation of attorneys, the thought of part-time was pretty much unheard of. My generation and others who graduated when I did have worked part-time schedules,” Bush said. “Other attorneys realize that you can have both (career and family) and still be a very good attorney, someone they want to work with. They realize they have to accommodate both so they don’t lose you and the value and service you bring to the firm.”

While senior attorneys might criticize Gen Xers for calling it a day at 5:00 p.m., Traditionalist Rex Arney of Brown, Drew & Massey considers younger associates well-rounded and more aware of the need to have a balance in their lives.

“I don’t believe the number of billable hours is quite as important as it was some years ago. I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” he said. “Back when I started in 1968, I think young lawyers were more driven and felt more compelled to make the practice the number one priority--almost to the sacrifice of other things. That leads to burn out, can affect the family and is not as productive as if you had a better balance.”


Technology – Making the Difference

Unlike their predecessors, the younger generations–which have an unprecedented determination to live life on their terms--are fortunate to have the technology that allows them to do so. Gen Xers have the luxury of more leisure time not only because they demand it, but also because they embrace the technology that enables them to work more efficiently. Home computers and Internet access have made it possible for them to work at home. Many attorneys conduct research online, rather than spend hours at the law library. And they can be reached by colleagues and clients at any time through cell phones, e-mail or text messages.

Gen Xer Eric Boyer, of Pence & MacMillan, went into law because he grew up seeing that his father, William Randall Boyer, had a fulfilling career as an attorney.

The senior Boyer started out his private practice hunting and pecking on a typewriter and dictating his correspondence to his secretary. He passed away just as computers were becoming a fixture in law offices and he faced either retiring or investing in computer equipment.

By contrast, his son is a self-proclaimed computer nerd. He lists his priorities as family, community service and career (in that order) and embraces technology because it makes it possible for him to take care of business from home.

“You can chat on the phone in the car,” Eric Boyer said. “I went home today and accessed the archive here. I started writing a letter and saved it to the server, then printed it out here.”

Thomson said the long hours lawyers were once expected to spend conducting research by book and checking cross references are no longer necessary.

“So much of the tedious aspect of research has been simplified by technology. I think all of us started doing research online because it’s so much more efficient,” he said. “Very honestly, I don’t think clients can afford to pay you to do it inefficiently. It would be hard for somebody to pay you to sit in the law library all day on a Saturday.”

“I haven’t written a letter that went through the mail (other than isolated incidences) for years,” said Gen Xer Nick Healey of Dray, Thomson and Dyekman. “I use e-mail. I sit in front of a computer all day, every day. I use a time keeping software for billing. All the research I do electronically. I don’t think I can remember how to use paper research. I do all my own documents. I have network access from home. All my calendars and contacts are online.”

Fairly representative of his generation, Healey also has an I Pod and buys all his music online. He admits, though, that he’s not a good cell phone user.

“I like my Blackberry better,” he said. “It’s easier to ignore if I want to ignore it. I can type really fast with my thumbs.”

Rippley said she wouldn’t be able to run her practice – which includes a great deal of foreclosures—nearly as effectively without the online database she frequently consults.

Though she enjoys technology as a valuable tool, she doesn’t like being accessible 24/7. She turns off the cell phone. But she worries about the younger generations.

“Can they ever turn it off?” Rippley asked. “I worry about it, stress-wise. I see people driving down the road on the freeway, and I can hear their music and they’ve got their cell phone in their hand and they’re merging into traffic. And I think, ‘No way, I am never going to get there.’ They’re 20 years old and plugged in all the time.”

She added that a friend of hers calls Blackberries “crackberries” for their addictive qualities.

“I like my Daytimer. I’m 40. I was so excited when I was 25 years old and got my Daytimer,” Rippley said. “When new associates come in, I used to ask them if they wanted a Daytimer, but now they don’t seem to even know what I’m talking about. I don’t ask them anymore.”

It’s no surprise that learning and using computers and electronic gadgets come easier to Gen Xers than their older counterparts--even Baby Boomers.

“Gen Xers have a better intuitive grasp of technology, where the Baby Boomers had to learn it,” Healey said.

“On a scale from one to ten, I put myself at a seven, compared to Eric’s 9,” said Von Krosigk. “If I didn’t have a computer I would be lost. For highly technical stuff, I just call Eric. I don’t enjoy technology. It’s a tool.”

At Pence & MacMillan, Schierer takes a bit of ribbing over his resistance to technology.

“I came kicking and screaming into technology at about the end of the 20th century, but I’m getting there,” he said, admitting that he doesn’t prepare his own documents but would not like to do without a computer or e-mail.

“Paul’s made a 0 to 4 metamorphosis in the last year,” Von Krosigk said.

“Oh, come on!” Schierer said. “Give me a six!”

“The older people have taken it up pretty well,” said Woznick, who said he depends on westlaw.com for online research. “But my generation probably relies on it more extensively. There are exceptions to every rule. I see older partners married to their computers, but generally, the younger the person is, the more they rely on it.”

Bush said she’s more like a Baby Boomer than a Gen X when it comes to dealing with technology. While she’s pleasantly surprised that she enjoys using a Blackberry, she’s not comfortable with the idea of the firm going paperless.

“I am very much a write-notes, make-a-list person,” she said. “I deal with paper files; I have to look at the piece of paper. I’m trying to train myself, but if we went paperless, I would still end up printing things out and reading them.”


Values Bridge the Generation Gap

Although the generations differ in their views on how to get the job done, they seem to share the same values. Across the generations, there is no gap between Wyoming lawyers when it comes to their conviction that they should play an active role in their communities, both for the sake of developing business and for the good of the community. Most of the lawyers interviewed by the Wyoming Lawyer take part in a number of charitable organizations.

“Community service is critical for its own sake,” said Healey. “If you live here and care about where you live, I think it’s critical that you get involved in the community and try to change it for the better.”

Thomson, who has served organizations from the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce to the Wyoming Taxpayers Association to the Cheyenne Family YMCA, said he likes to be involved in political campaigns and the community because he likes to help people. But he added that getting out in the community also builds a law practice. He recalled one occasion when taking some friends of friends to a Kiwanis clambake resulted in his acquiring Safecard as a client.

Baby Boomer Dyekman supports the Boy Scouts, Cheyenne Symphony, Meals on Wheels and the University of Wyoming.

“Because I have a really strong feeling that part of citizenship is participating in those kinds of things, public service is an important thing for me,” he said. “I’ve never run for (public office). I’ve always said I wouldn’t mind doing those jobs, but getting elected is a trick.”

Coleman said part of what attracted her to Pence & MacMillan was its dedication to the City of Laramie, in terms of both financial contributions and volunteer efforts. Now a partner herself, she serves on the UW Symphony and UW Art Museum Board, the Laramie Community Foundation Board and is a member of the local Rotary.


The Meaning of a Good Mentor

Attorneys from all generations also agreed that a good mentor is invaluable to a young attorney for learning the ropes of the profession and shaping his or her professional ethics.

Thomson speaks fondly of the mentors he enjoyed as a young attorney and reminisces about the days when afternoons in the law library led to interesting stories and insight into the profession.

“I spent a lot of time visiting with judges,” he said. “I got to know them. The law office was across from the Supreme Court. I’d do research in the library and see the judges down there. There’s a lot of security now. You don’t just casually poke your head in a judge’s chambers and say, ‘How’s it going?’”

Mentoring used to take place over lunch with a more experienced attorney, but over time, it has become more formalized. It’s referred to by name and is often planned and structured. But the role of mentors is no less important to today’s attorneys.

A good mentor is “priceless,” according to Rippley, who said the partners of Brown, Drew & Massey often talk about whether they are spending enough time mentoring associates.

“I think across the generations, mentorship has been preserved as being very important, something we need to spend a lot of time concentrating on,” she said. “Sometimes we get so busy with the practice we don’t always do as well as we should. I think it’s important that younger lawyers get the benefit of our mistakes.”

The other problem is billable hours,” Rippley added. “Our client doesn’t want to pay for two lawyers and it’s an economic reality--if you put associates on case, their time is not billable. In 1945, an associate tagged along to sit in a deposition, and it was not an issue, or not as much.”

“You don’t learn how to be a lawyer in law school,” said Megan Goetz, a Gen Xer, of Pence & MacMillan. “You need mentors. The way I treat people (other attorneys) is influenced by what the older generation has taught me what to do. I value and admire the Gregs, telling me stories what Hoak did with them."

“Hoak was the godfather of the firm,” said Von Krosigk. “He solidified most of the ideals established in the firm. He was an extremely good mentor. As much as he and I butted heads, I appreciate now what he did.”

“The experience of doing it over the course of time makes you a better lawyer,” Coleman said. “Paul and Greg have experienced a wealth of knowledge I don’t have yet. It’s a good thing I have them around.”

And the older generation of attorneys can learn a thing or two from their younger colleagues, too. Now Thomson, for example, goes skiing in Steamboat every weekend during the winter.

“I discovered somewhere along the line that I could get things done and the world was not going to come to an end if I wasn’t in the office,” he said.

In the end, perhaps (as some attorneys concluded) the differences between attorneys have less to do with generational characteristics and more to do with simple personality traits, changing times, and the nature of growing older.

“We all have personality differences, but that’s it,” Schierer said.

“Being so young, I can’t say, but I suspect that when I’m 50 or 59 I will probably say the younger generation doesn’t have the same work ethic,” said Woznick. “You may have to say that about the younger generation because it’s a natural thing for you to feel, in part, due to your reluctance to turn it over. I think it’s natural to think you did it right and the next generation has a lot of growing up to do. I don’t know that it’s a generation-specific thing. I think it’s just part of growing older.”



Mary Angell is a freelance writer from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and a frequent contributor to the Wyoming Lawyer.


Copyright © 2006 – Wyoming State Bar



     

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