Getting beyond the doom and gloom
by Caroline Nevin
The “aging of the profession” is viewed with deep concern; in fact, it’s beginning to take on the feel of a Y2K-sized panic. Everyone is bracing for an exodus of brains, experience and – let’s be realistic – high-end earning power. Much wringing of hands is occurring about the few coming in behind, their absence outside of big cities, and their (outrageous!) demands for work/life balance instead of killer billable hours.
Much as some of us would appreciate it, we can’t wave a magic wand and make half the Boomers 20 years younger to balance out our demographic. And, unlike Y2K, we can’t throw money at a consultant to make the problem go away. That leaves us with only two options: ignore it, or adjust to change.
Ignoring it has obvious problems, but so far, it seems to be working just fine for a lot of people. For those of you less inclined to let life “just happen” and more optimistic about the opportunities that change brings, I have a few suggestions.
Start from the premise that any employer gets more from happy employees. Different things make different people happy; that means we have to experiment – and occasionally fail – in order to find out what works best for each person. This is a challenging concept when you’re in the business of precedents, structure and unbending tradition. Managing people was much easier when it was: “here’s what you have to do and here’s what we’ll pay you to do it.” That’s just not going to work anymore. Quality of life really counts. Check out www.cba.org/practicelink for recruitment and retention advice.
Get rid of the age barriers and start thinking in terms of competence. I’ve met plenty of amazing lawyers who are smarter and more alive to the joy of contributing now than they were 20 years ago. Don’t push people out unnecessarily. If there’s interest on both sides, consider an arrangement for part-time work or limiting work to favourite files (the new buzzword is “phased retirement”).
To attract new lawyers to your beautiful but remote community, think about banding together as a local bar and paying to bring them to town to try you on for size. Think about a Shared Articles arrangement (see www.cba.org/bc under Initiatives). Chances are you’ll be able to offer new lawyers hands-on experience beyond their years, and everyone wins with a new local lawyer to share the workload (remember that phased retirement idea?).
Think about how to support community engagement. Lawyers want to make a difference in the world. An employer’s commitment to pro bono and community service is a growing factor in how young lawyers in particular view and choose their jobs. Visit www.probononet.bc.ca for ideas. Older lawyers have lots to offer too. In fact, the ABA established a separate “Second Season of Service” Commission and website, in recognition that late-career lawyers want to contribute their legal expertise and knowledge to others.
Lastly, stop viewing senior lawyers as being one big homogenous group; just because the statisticians do, doesn’t mean we have to buy in to it. Eliminate ageism in your thinking and in your policies; start thinking in terms of competence and contribution. Never get in the way of anyone’s potential to aspire to do great things – young or old.
This article was published in the February 2008 issue of BarTalk. © 2008 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.