United States: Engaging Millennial Lawyers In The Bar

Last Updated: September 28 2018
Article by Kathleen D. Wilkinson

The Pennsylvania Bar Association is addressing the needs of five generations of lawyers in the workforce, including the generation termed "millennials," and how we can help them become invested in the long-term future of our state bar and the legal profession. Following development of the PBA Strategic Plan, then-PBA President Sharon López formed the Membership Engagement Blue Ribbon Panel. One of the areas studied by the panel concerned the challenges facing attorneys born between 1977 and 1992 and how the PBA will effectively engage these millennial lawyers.

The panel made eight recommendations on issues affecting millennials, minorities and mothers (the "3 Ms"). At the January 2018 PBA Midyear Meeting, the panel presented the CLE program "Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the Legal Profession: Eight Recommendations to Move the Ball Forward" and provided a process and project update. In May of this year, the Membership Engagement Blue Ribbon Panel received the PBA Award for Outstanding Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion for its efforts related to membership, leadership initiatives and diversity and inclusion. In August, the panel's work and recommendations were part of a program at the National Conference of Bar Presidents' annual meeting in Chicago.

Some of the findings considered by the panel are that millennial lawyers are more diverse, more tech savvy and seek flexibility and options for working differently. According to López, "Millennials are collaborative, creative and looking for practical, concrete ways to achieve their goals. Once the bar association taps into those resources and provides inclusive strategies for connecting millennial attorneys with seasoned lawyers, we will achieve new levels of engagement and success. Everything we do now to prepare collaborative opportunities will help us to sustain this new wave of members."

Maraleen Shields, a panel member and a millennial, points out research that shows millennials hold the same values of many of the other generations in the workforce, including baby boomers. Shields said she believes this younger generation wants to use technology to meet their goals by using FaceTime or webinars as opposed to spending hours driving to and from in-person meetings. Millennials value their free time and weekends and may appear to be leaving the office early when, in fact, they are working late at night or very early in the morning.

When asked about his work this year, PBA President Charles Eppolito III said that he "embraces the varied and important skills and assets millennials bring to the table and has emphasized the need to reach out to that younger generation, to provide the value they seek through the PBA, to provide millennials every opportunity to enhance their professional development and ability to connect with others, and to actively engage millennials in the PBA. This includes, among other things, better and broader means of communication, including through social media, and more effective utilization of technology to bring Pennsylvania lawyers together."

For many years, attorneys have been encouraged to bring children to PBA Section retreats such as the one held by the Civil Litigation Section, which tries to find family-friendly hotels for its annual retreats. Eppolito also wants to be very inclusive and stated that he "recognizes that family is very important to all of us, including millennials, and does not wish to ask our members to choose between their families and being actively engaged in PBA." To this end, he specifically asked various PBA entities, including the Young Lawyers Division (YLD), the Women in the Profession Committee (WIP), the Solo and Small Firm Section and the Quality of Life/Balance Committee (along with others), "to continually consider and create conferences, meetings, events and services that are 'family friendly' and incorporate PBA's value of our members' families into what we do."

The panel saw a need for the PBA to work on promoting best practices for working remotely and assigned this task to the Solo and Small Firm Section. The PBA Quality of Life/Balance Committee has held several programs on the effective use of flextime, mindfulness and avoiding stress in the practice of law, and is another resource available to millennials.

YLD Immediate Past Chair Jonathan Koltash, one of the members of the Blue Ribbon Panel, observed that he first got active in the PBA due to "mentoring from above" after a colleague invited him to a networking event held by the PBA Government Lawyers Committee. Koltash was friends with past YLD chairs Lisa Benzie and Robert Datorre, who recruited him to serve as a YLD Zone 3 chair. From there, he became treasurer and then chair-elect of the YLD. Koltash said he does not know many young lawyers who wouldn't want to involved in an organization in which you can network with judges and more experienced lawyers. Koltash thinks the PBA is a great place for millennials, who probably have loans to pay, and one of the best benefits for young lawyers is in identifying internships and connecting with new jobs through the PBA Internship Board for Law Students and the Career Center.

The YLD learned that many women who became interested in leadership roles were "aging out" of the 38-year-old ceiling of the YLD. Some were already active in their local bars and others could not be chairs while in their early childbearing years. However, these same women lawyers were coming back to the PBA ready to serve, but having aged out of the YLD. In 2017, in order to provide them with more time to seek leadership roles in the PBA, the YLD amended its bylaws. Now, lawyers up to and including those 40 years of age and those who are 40 or older who have been practicing five years or fewer are included in YLD membership.

Noting that there have not been many recent women YLD chairs — possibly because some "aged out" before they were ready to get involved with YLD leadership — Alaina Koltash says she is happy to have been able to follow her husband Jon Koltash as YLD chair. She became active in the YLD two years after law school as a Zone 3 chair. Alaina and Jon Koltash agree that the PBA has to find new ways of solving problems and use good messaging to emphasize how it can help young lawyers network and get business.

Recognizing that it is very hard for a young lawyer to leave the office, Alaina Koltash related a story of having to prepare for a Commonwealth Court argument and almost missing a PBA Government Lawyers holiday party. When she finally made the decision and arrangements to attend, she was delighted to see a judge and attorneys who were involved in her case and she felt more at ease seeing them the following day in court.

Alaina Koltash indicated that the PBA can help young lawyers build their leadership skills by providing networking opportunities and support systems. Young lawyers, in turn, can show their employers the value of being active in the bar and how it helps them grow and develop, which helps in their law practice.

Recognizing the need for mentoring opportunities, the Membership Engagement Blue Ribbon Panel recommended that PBA work on programs to help millennial lawyers develop practical skills. To help young lawyers who are establishing their practices, the Civil Litigation Section has held a series of trial "mini-camps" featuring experienced litigators and judges, followed by networking receptions. The panel has suggested that other committees and sections consider using this example to reach out to millennials to help them develop skills and benefit from mentoring opportunities.

The realties for women lawyers of the millennial generation and issues faced are similar to those of the preceding generation, according to WIP Co-chair Andrea Tuominen. Tuominen explained, "While women may make up nearly half the law school graduates and associates at large law firms, only a fraction of them become equity partners and non-equity partners, earning a fraction of the pay — 69 cents to the male partner's dollar." Tuominen stated, "PBA's Commission on Women in the Profession provides access to information, opportunities for involvement at a statewide level and support and encouragement for women lawyers at all stages of their careers. Through its educational programs, formal and informal mentoring opportunities, promotion of policies and best practices, the WIP is committed to breaking down barriers and helping women succeed."

An example of one of those programs for millennials is a "Back to the Bar" program, such as the one put together by the Allegheny County Bar Association, which is a resource for attorneys who are looking to enter or re-enter the workforce after taking care of family responsibilities. Many women delay childbearing and many millennials step out of the practice of law while they care for infants and young children. Shields observed that childbearing can delay a woman's opportunity to advance within her firm or practice. The panel suggested gathering information on flextime policies, maternity policies and breastfeeding policies and making it available to all members.

WIP Co-vice Chair Melissa Leininger chairs the WIP Back to the Bar subcommittee. She said the WIP "is proud to be working closely with PBA Immediate Past President Sharon López on developing a toolkit that attorneys who are parents can use to request, advocate for and secure family time, while maintaining their connection with the practice of law and membership in the PBA. This Back to the Bar initiative will focus on three components: getting ready for leave, staying connected while on leave and returning to work as a parent or as a lawyer who was not practicing for a period of time."

Members of the Membership Engagement Blue Ribbon Panel are Sharon López, Kathleen Wilkinson, Charles Eppolito III, Sara Austin, William Pugh, Barry Simpson, Melissa Leininger, Jonathan Koltash, Lori McMaster, Gerald Shoemaker, Jonathan Huerta, Maraleen Shields, Ellen Bailey, Tim Riley, Jay Silberblatt, David Schwager, Elizabeth Simcox, Sandra Brydon Smith and William Baldwin. The panel anticipates that its work and recommendations can be carried forward to benefit PBA lawyers for years to come.

Originally published by Pennsylvania Lawyer Magazine.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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