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Most law firms focus their business development efforts, time, and training investment on partners. If there are any crumbs left over, the associates might get a taste. Little thought is given to a strategic approach to enabling contributions from the entire generational spectrum. The perpetuation of this caste system comes at a price.

The historical hierarchy in law firms when it comes to business development, client relations and team leadership is obsolete. A better approach is to take advantage of the assets of all generations.

The following guest post, from Phyllis Weiss Haserot, dubbed “the cross-generational voice,” will explain how to do just that.

Today we have three or four generations of service providers and three or four generations of clients and prospects, often misaligned as to market intelligence and worldviews. Recent studies have proven what we knew anecdotally and intuitively. There is often a significant age gap between firm leaders and clients. Using age and years of legal experience as leadership criteria for business development and client teams can produce missed opportunities and mismatches in an era where “customer experience” has become a top determinant of client retention and people tend to be more comfortable with others who are similar to them.

Firms need to look beyond “paying your dues,” longevity and cloning past models to what each individual brings to the task as a team contributor or leader. One place to start is to look at typical attributes of each generation and especially to younger generations - without pre-conceived notions.

Multi-Generational Business Development Advantages

Gen-X Assets

  • Considerable expertise in their area
  • Are peers of up and coming leaders and decision-makers on the client side
  • Are positioned to have a realistic sense of the marketplace
  • Have become hard workers (after  “entitled” and “slacker” labels in early career)
  • Still use face-to-face and phone communication
  • Are more flexible and agile in work style than older generations
  • Have greater acceptance of diversity; encouragement of more women in leadership and managerial positions

Gen-Y/Millennial Assets

  • Typically ambitious; work hard for recognition and opportunity
  • Eager learners
  • Team players
  • Time to work long hours and cultivate relationships before heavy family responsibilities
  • Tech savvy; potential to be very productive
  • More presentation and public speaking experience than previous generations at the same age
  • Better view of coming marketplace needs and alternative delivery modes
  • Well traveled, more cross-culturally aware than older generations

These factors represent an intersection of generational attributes and the development that typically comes with age. I’ll elaborate on a few.

Communication styles can be a source of tension in client relationships. Clients like the fact that Gen-Xers are still comfortable using face-to-face and phone communication.

Gen-Xers have been helping to shift the gender balance of power on the client side, which is slowly showing results on the service deliverer side as well through the purchasing process. There is growing support for women leaders and recognition of the advantages in the client relationship. More women than ever are making service purchasing decisions for their organizations. With the Gen-Y/Millennials coming into decision-making roles, we can hope to see more gender-neutrality, leading to more productivity.

Networking is ingrained in many Millennials, whether done digitally or in person. Add business development coaching and training to Millennial ambition, and networking expands tremendously their touch point opportunities. And their considerable travel experience for their age and attraction to diversity of all types provides them with global sophistication of great value to business success today and in the future.

Millennials and the younger Gen-Xers are also savvy consumers who tend to be aware of fast-changing marketplace needs. They network with young entrepreneurs and follow the trends on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and on the newest social media sites.

The above advantages make a good case for involving the younger generations in marketing and business development earlier in their careers than in the past and in more significant roles. Less hierarchical multi-generational teams add strength now and prepare for sustainable client relationships for the long term.

For this potential to come to fruition, firms will need to support facilitation of cross-generational conversation and dialogues among multi-generational members of work teams and provide incentives for knowledge transfer and succession planning.

(Click here for approximate birth date ranges for each generation.)

Phyllis Haserot

As president of Practice Development Counsel, Phyllis helps law firms solve inter-generational challenges to boost client attraction and retention, productivity, succession planning, and knowledge transfer. Reach her at pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com


One thing that's true across generations of lawyers is the need to develop the skills required to contribute to BD teams and to generate business on their own. Nobody is born with them; they have to be learned, and they can't be learned in a retreat session. To learn how your team or you can become reliable business generators, schedule a complimentary call with me.

Mike O'Horo