"For the first time ever, lawyers of three and even four generations (abroad) meet and work within one law firm"ERNEST GRAMATSKIY, PRESIDENT OF GRAMATSKIY & PARTNERS LAW FIRM, OUTLINED THE TRENDS OF THE GLOBAL LEGAL MARKET’S TRANSFORMATION
— The legal market becomes richer and more innovative every year. In what areas can this be seen most of all now?
— For years we have been peering at a pitch-dark distance trying to find the threats with which experts continuously scared us: new offices of foreign companies, Multi-Disciplinary Practices (MDP) of auditors, legal bots, smart contracts, LegalTech startups and NewLaw projects... All this was supposed to put us out of the profession in the foreseeable future. Changes came, but from within and not from outside. Many captains looked through their binoculars waiting for frigates with robot-auditors aboard on the horizon for so long that they missed the moment when their own crew grew and changed. What is more, the crew changed so much that they demanded access to the steering wheel and half a chest of coins. And when they did not receive it, they got on their boats and, together with part of the crew, set free floating.
Look how many such new sailboats and maneuvering schooners appeared in our seas in the last seven years, all of them with ambitions of becoming aircraft carriers. These shatters of legendary teams, scattered through the ocean, are visible consequences of a generation gap. All together they are an enormous legal fleet ready to fight for their share of the booty today. Some of them have already caught up the acknowledged flagships of the market, while others are far from chasing growth and found a safe harbor; still others hoist a black flag and attack all using dumping, just like pirates. There are those who simply pass by on a banana boat but, at the same time, they make more noise than a steamer.
— How is the competitive pressure of young firms changing the market infrastructure?
— Our market is about 25 years old, since the longest-standing brands turn exactly 25 this year. And there aren't as many of those who managed to fight off all the gales and storms at sea and pass through all reefs and shoals unscathed. The winners are those who managed to survive in this "red ocean" and did not lower their flag. Every ten years the market is renewed and newcomers significantly change its structure. Let’s open a summary table of the top 50 rating winners over the years. How many outstanding names, how many grandiose cruisers, who, like us, began in the 1990s and became history, crashed against the rocks of time, although the captains were experienced, and the ships seemed to be enormous... Some gone, others are afar. It was they who developed the market to be what it still remains in general terms. That generation paved the way, developed a code of honor and the first community guidelines. In due course, the number of ships increased and the take decreased, but at all times the main thing was not to lower the sails and to believe in your star.
All of us experience constant pressure both aside and from below. You should understand this market from within: here, each ship's boy claims to be an old salt and, over time, this number piles up and turns into the qualitative generational shift. The owners and partners of the first firms are the representatives of Generation X, as it is called by American sociologists. They are used to standing on their own two feet, believing in the strength of a hand shake, many of them came from science or are very closely connected with it; they established the first standards of the legal craft, but their heart always belonged to the legal art. By the crisis of 2009, Generation Y had got stronger and received a start in life. They have other values, priorities, and perceive the world differently. The unspoken rule of "up or aside" forced many to choose the second option. That is where so many divisions, splits and start-up boutiques came from in subsequent years.
— Was the difference between generations so insurmountable?
— As a matter of principle, it should be noted that there was no conflict between "Fathers and Children." When we sailed with Generation Y, it was easy to negotiate and coexist with them: at least we spoke one language. They took over our business, considering us tutors, and wanted only to be independent. They are more pragmatic, goal-seeking, enterprising. They are initially embedded in the global context. Their key advantage is that we appeared ex ovo and started our business intuitively, by touch; those who followed the same path were well-read and heard a lot, they knew "how" and now replicate this experience in their firms. And so in general terms, I understand their world and am ready to agree with their ideas.
Our differences are difficult to decompose, just as it is impossible to give a recipe for liking, friendship or love. In short, this is all about cultural codes or signs, symbols, and images by which people perceive and transfer purport within their generation. It is the reflection of mental memory, accumulated aggregate experience, what you know, like tree rings. Law firms also have their own annual marks. Having more than 20 such rings and even remaining in the current legal context, you still will not be able to take the issues of the firm’s management and work with clients like the lawyer with five years of experience or even an advisor with ten years of experience, do. You just saw a little more, you have another force of intellectual inertia, you've heard it somewhere and you can tell how it ends.
But now, the next generation, the millennials, make their presence known (those, who passed on a banana boat 5 minutes ago). Their view of the world does not have strict rules, career goals and authorities; the planning horizon is measured in coming days and Google and iPhone have always existed. This last generation with progressive attention deficit and a pronounced surplus of self-importance will grow and gain weight. The conversations that existed in former firms between X and Y is no longer relevant. It seems like it was in the last century: problems of partnership, salaries and bonuses, billing hours... It was the world like in a David Maister book. The new generation will most likely live according to Richard Susskind's books. In many law firms, senior partners are the representatives of Generation Y and the millennials are a key link. No prizes for guessing that such firms have a completely different agenda, since intangible motivation is worth a lot more for these guys. For example, the life-work balance problem, ancient as the legal profession itself, is being deconstructed under their influence.
By the time that Generation Z came around, information technologies had finally blurred the borders between business and life. The balance is long gone: working and living at the same time, 24 hours online, they do not want to exist as we do under the conditions of moral and physical exhaustion. With their drive they make law firms become more humane. For the first time ever, new labor policies are being introduced in the most conservative market: a flexible schedule, remote and virtual work, partial employment, additional leave, phased retirement.
— Nevertheless, it feels like you consider a young generation with a grain of salt…
— By no means. Some of its representatives just not concerned about the change or development of the society as much as about how to rebel on behalf of the youth delight before their own individuality. Every new generation is worthy, clever, interesting and conceited. The legal business dwells on this. Besides, any division into generations is a mere convention. It is not a historical change of formations when one species crowds out the others. Diffusion of generations takes place both in the market as a whole, and inside the very firms. We tend to underestimate this trend, but Western commentators write about this as a major transformation of the global legal market: for the first time ever, lawyers of three and even four generations (abroad) meet and work within one law firm (partners over the age of 65 are called "traditionalists" abroad to avoid the word "dinosaurs"). That is great since it is one of the forms of diversity that does not allow turning a law firm into an "echo chamber" – a self-contained like-minded community.