Editor's Note: Inspired by the many speakers WLALA has presented over the years, we’ve taken notice that we can all benefit by sharing our experiences, wisdom, ideas and hopes for the future. For the younger generation, it is easy to forget how far we’ve come and the paths those before us have paved. For the older generation, the focus on work-life balance and the drop-out rate among younger attorneys may seem disappointing. In this “Generational Perspectives” series, WLALA will feature articles written by female attorneys of all ages – from those who have been practicing for more than 35 years to those who recently graduated from law school -- to share their thoughts on how far we’ve come and where we are headed.
Somewhere in Between - the Gen X Conundrum
by Tanya L. Forsheit
I love WLALA’s Generational Perspectives series that Communications Director Amy Brantly introduced this year – it provides an amazing forum for women at every level of practice to share experiences from their unique vantage points. So I was really excited to contribute this month. (And, believe it or not, I miss writing my President’s Messages! You thought you had gotten rid of me – not so fast!) It’s August, and hopefully many of you are taking some vacation time and generally enjoying summer – so we’re going to keep this one light for your poolside reading. Lots of time for pondering the big questions in life in the fall.
What is my generational perspective? I fit squarely within what is commonly referred to as Generation X – those of us born between the early 60s and the early 80s. Actually I fall smack in the middle of Gen X. I was born in 1972. Gen X finds itself sandwiched between the Baby Boomers and the generations referred to as Generation Y and the Millennials, those born in the 80s and later.
Gen X women lawyers, in my experience, belong to a relatively small but extraordinary club. We are the ones who have not opted out, we have stayed the course. We are old enough to have been practicing for more than 15 years in many cases, maybe even 20. We are partners and senior in-house counsel now. We have earned our stripes. We have sprouted more than a few gray hairs – usually right after long conference calls. We are excluded from the cool kids’ lunches. We are called ma’am more often than we would like. We are vested with extraordinary amounts of responsibility in our professional and personal lives. We make the trains run on time. We love what we do and we know how to do it.
But, interestingly, we are often not in charge. We are like the Jan Brady of the legal world. The Baby Boomers, those in their mid-to-late 50s and 60s, still dominate life in most circles of the legal profession. The sit on and run law firm executive committees, they occupy General Counsel positions, they are appointed to the bench, and they are usually the ultimate decision makers. This puts those of us in the Gen X bucket in a unique and critical position. We have an incredibly important role to play.
Why? Well, we are the essential mediators, intermediaries and translators between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials:
· We remember practicing without cell phones or remote access of any kind – you had to be sitting in an office in front of a desktop computer to get work done. Work on the weekend meant work in the office.
o BUT we embrace technology. We could not live without our smartphones and tablets and we know how to take advantage of and utilize technology. We are not afraid of the cloud. We tweet.
· When we started our careers, we knew that we had to prove ourselves. Our job was to do whatever the senior lawyers wanted, whenever they wanted it. We were there to pay our dues. We did not feel any sense of entitlement. We know that hard work is an absolute prerequisite.
o BUT we believe in breaking the mold. One size does not fit all when it comes to workplace lifestyle. We know that it is possible to be a successful attorney without sacrificing a personal or family life. We may not have it all, but we know how to have everything that matters at any given time.
· The economy was not necessarily thriving when we graduated law school, but we did benefit from at least a decade of salary increases and outrageous bonuses in the BigLaw world.
o BUT we have lived and worked through the dot-com bust and the great recession and we have the war stories to prove it.
· We were lucky enough to grow up in law firms at a time when our mentors could sit us down and really explain what was going on – we got early hands on experience and clients actually paid for it.
o BUT we were the ones the senior partners looked to in preparing the litigation budget or revising the bills. We know how to be lean and efficient.
· Other women paved the way for us. We had kids and it didn’t derail our careers. We didn’t have to pretend to be men to succeed.
o BUT we know how tough it is to juggle it all for men and women, and we don’t pretend it is a cakewalk.
Bottom line – Gen X women lawyers play a crucial role in mentoring down and managing up. The more we embrace that role, instead of seeing it as a burden, the more value we bring to a rapidly changing legal marketplace. And one of these days, in the not too distant future, we’ll be in charge. :-)
Tanya L. Forsheit is WLALA's Immediate Past President. She is a Founding Partner of InfoLawGroup LLP.
*If you would like to contribute to this series, please contact the WLALA Communications Officer, Amy Brantly at firstname.lastname@example.org.