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Listening to the next generation of lawyers

By Sheldon Sloan
President, State Bar of California

Sheldon Sloan

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 backgrounds.

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.

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