Changing of the Guard, Revisited

Guard mount - officer of the day-2

LAST WORD: Changing of the Guard, Revisited

By Marzena Czarnecka

David Cravit thinks I’m totally off my rocker. (See? You aren’t the only one.)

You may have heard of Cravit—author of The New Old: How the Boomers Are Changing Everything…Again (ECW Press 2008), executive vice-president of Moses Znaimer’s ZoomerMedia, baby boomer himself and frequent speaker on how young people—especially those in the marketing and communication industry—just don’t get the boomers… and how this is going to cost business mega-bucks, because the boomers still control 60 per cent of the spending out there.

Cravit and I chatted about law firm demographics while I was working on Lexpert’s first demographic study for the 2009 Student and Associate Guide. He’s never done work on the legal industry specifically, but he saw some carry-over from other fields. And the point he raised was a simple one: if the clients are aging, doesn’t it make sense for law firms to hold on to the lawyers that are their peers? “Leaving aside the issue of competency,” he says—and we’re on side here in assuming that someone who’s been practicing for a few decades should be somewhat more competent than the most brilliant 27-year-old law school graduate—“you have to have people in your firm that get that the concept of aging has been turned on its head, and who understand the profound social changes stemming from people living longer.”

In other words, he thinks delaying within law firms what I called “the changing of the guard” in the June 2009 issue of Lexpert magazine is a good thing. Chiefly because boomers are delaying it within the client base—even those who were planning to go off and play golf this year or next can no longer afford to do so.

What do you think about that?

Based on the feedback “Changing of the Guard” received, I bet those of you under 40 are royally ticked off, those over 50 full of smirks, and those between 40 and 50 trying to figure out how to benefit from the inevitable conflict between your respective juniors and seniors. Now, myself, I’m squarely on the side of the under-40s here. But some things Cravitt says sound terrifiyingly convincing. (Especially after coming off an article all about litigators, who boast about their careers not really taking off until their 50s, and who plan to dominate court rooms through their 60s, 70s and possibly beyond.) Let’s face it, at least some boomers are extremely reluctant to retire and relinquish control. Is it going to take a revolution? (Cue background music: John Lennon croons, “You say you want a revolution / well, you know, we all want to change the world…”)


But we might have to be a little more sneaky about taking the power than I had initially thought. Frankly, it’s going to be easier in Calgary than in Montreal or Toronto: we’ve got a tradition of young CEOs, a distrust of anything smelling of Establishment, and a core of ruthlessness that only people who live through commodity price swings of $9 to $147 and down again (and back? Is it coming back?) are capable of developing. Still, even here, we might need to resort to some, um, how shall I put it, some stratagems. Plans. You know? Don’t wait for the silverback to transfer power to you. Quietly, carefully, but consistently take it, a wee bit at a time—preferably in concert with your counterpart at the client’s HQ, who may be dealing with the same dilemma with her CFO, VP or GC.

Adam Pekarsky, lawyer, then director of professional development and recruitment at Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, and now president of the Pekarsky Group, a specialized legal consulting and recruitment firm, isn’t as cynical and sneaky as me. Plus, he’s a bit older—but far from a boomer. But when I go to him to get a Cravitt-Boomer-Zoomer antidote, he delivers. There will be inter-generational conflict over jobs and power and access to clients, you bet, he says. But there’s a solution.

“The best way of approaching this generational issue is from a simple position of respect,” Pekarsky says. “The old guys—they were here first. They have the grey hair, they have the experience.” Don’t we know it. What are you saying, dude? You know I’m looking for a quick fix, right?

“The burden is on the younger generation to communicate effectively and respectfully with the older generation,” Pekarsky says. Wait, wait, it’s not as wishy-washy and polite as it sounds. I told you we’d have to be sneaky, right? (Listen to the wisdom of John Lennon: “… if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.)

Communicate effectively and respectfully. Respectfully take more and more of that hard work, that relationship building work off their stooped shoulders. Effectively take more and more of that power… (Adam is jumping up and down in the background. I think he’s hollering, “That is not what I said!” Shh, shh. Let’s give the last words to Lennon: Don’t you know it’s gonna be /Alright / Alright /Alright /oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, alright…)

Marzena Czarnecka lives and writes in Calgary, and still firmly believes in the Changing of the Guard. Yell at her via but note that “you are not off your rocker” messages make her happier than the other kind.

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