Listening to the next generation of lawyers
By Sheldon Sloan
President, State Bar of California
We live in a different world today. That may be cliche´, but no one can
dispute the impact of major changes in our world over the last decade. The
incredible speed of advance of technology has changed how we communicate, how
we learn and how, and even where, we choose to live. Coupled with the advance
of science and awareness of health issues, our society has changed dramatically.
In our bar association, the impact is obvious. As we live longer and healthier
lives, the average age of our membership has risen. We continue to admit thousands
of new lawyers each year, with the age of that group rising to 29 to 30 as
younger people choose to delay or slow down their education path in order to
explore other alternatives.
Gone are the days when people get a job out of high school or college and
expect to hold it for the rest of their working lives. Lawyers today change
jobs an average of four to five times throughout their professional lives,
and many in our interconnected world now work mobilely, from home, on video
conferences or even while traveling anywhere in the world.
By the most recent
statistics, the average age of our membership has risen to near 50. .(Read "Growing,
and graying, attorney population hits retirement age") At the same
time, we identify nearly 40,000 of our 210,000 members as “young lawyers,” which
we define as age 36 or younger or in active practice for five years or less.
That means that nearly 20 percent of the State Bar hails from a generation
that only knows this technological world and that the next generation probably
will never have heard of a “land line” or used a fax machine.
This is why the current State Bar Board of Governors believes that generational
issues and changing demographics are a major issue for consideration and action.
In fact, we believe this is such an important issue that we devoted both our
planning meeting this past winter and our Spring Summit last month to addressing
the concerns of our young lawyer members throughout the state.
To help us understand the issues, we decided that we must engage in open and
candid dialogue with young lawyers and their official representatives, the
board members of the California
Young Lawyers Association (CYLA). It is important that we understand the
concerns of this significant portion of the bar membership as we position both
the State Bar and local bars for the transition of leadership to the next generation.
As with most issues, this is not a snap-your-fingers, all-is-suddenly-well
proposition. Bar leaders of all ages need to work together to address many
pressing concerns of our younger members: finding an appropriate job, paying
off student loans, balancing professional and home lives, finding mentors,
building networks, providing and taking advantage of practical programs and
addressing the ever-widening gap in California in providing legal services
to those in need.
As always, there are limits to what we can do effectively. We do not have
unlimited resources to help us with these efforts, and, as with all problems,
we have differences of opinion on which of the issues need attention first.
It is our job as leaders of the State Bar to adopt and pursue a course of action
that will help us achieve our universal goal.
For our part, the State Bar Board of Governors already is making a major investment
in the leaders of tomorrow. Through our Pipeline
Initiative, we are working to reach young people of all backgrounds in
their early formative years and help them understand that our profession is
open to everyone. Our efforts to identify and nurture multi-racial youths as
potential lawyers will not only make our bar more diverse, but also ensure
that the leaders of tomorrow’s bar will represent Californians of all
This is one important step. As a result of our summit and continued review
of these issues, many more proposals are expected to come. In this technological
revolution, California and the nation will continue to change rapidly and drastically.
It is our responsibility to ensure that the State Bar of California not just
adapts, but takes the lead in helping our members adjust to the demands of
being a lawyer today.
We intend to fulfill that responsibility.
Services Survey - 2006