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Baby boomers and millennials – can’t we all just get along?

Posted by Allen Li on 11-Apr-2017 14:13:52

“It’s those with the most experience that can contribute the most knowledge to new technologies.”  

There’s been a lot of press in New Zealand recently about the growing division between the baby boomers and millennials/gen Y.  For example, Bill English has said the age of eligibility for superannuation will rise to 67 from 2037 (i.e. it won’t directly affect the baby boomers).  For a few years now, the house prices in the most popular areas of NZ have been out of reach of most millennials.  This blog isn’t intended to discuss the economic and social arguments behind these situations we find ourselves in.  I am, however, interested in how the stereotypical differences in mindsets between the generations can make innovation tricky within organisations.  How do we get the best outcomes, in light of these differences?


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What are the issues at the moment?

It’s a massive generalisation (this whole discussion is, really), but almost everything I hear and see suggests that some baby boomers think that millennials are lazy, ungrateful and expect good things to happen immediately and without a lot of effort being put in.  There’s a sense of entitlement.  In contrast, it seems some millennials think that baby boomers had much better opportunities and those same opportunities are not being passed on to the next generations. 

How does this play out in the workplace when innovation is the topic of the day? 

It’s true that some baby boomers don’t see the need to “reinvent the wheel” or try something new when hard work will do the same trick.  In my own experience, I’ve found that some people (not necessarily baby boomers) think of the boring, dirty, repetitive work as a necessary evil.  Something that the juniors just have to do – almost as an initiation.  Sort of an “if I had to go through the pain, then so should they” mentality. 

It’s also true that some millennials would love for their (baby boomer) bosses to look beyond the next five years and put structures and technologies in place to make working life more enjoyable and easier for the generation of workers coming through.  Technologies such as those mentioned in this ebook would be a good start.  Millennials are more willing to look for new job opportunities where the current one doesn’t meet their requirements.  And that’s perhaps a difference in approach in itself:  millennials expect to get something more out of a job than a working income and somewhere to spend the day.  Millennials expect to have a good work/life balance, be encouraged to speak up and add value, be part of the decision making processes, be encouraged to look at ways to do things better, and to come home feeling they’ve achieved something meaningful and contributed to society. 

Why does this matter?

Let’s put aside the cynical few who are in it for themselves and don’t care about the futures of their current workmates.  I’d imagine that baby boomers who have worked in the same place for many years feel a great sense of loyalty to their organisation.  I’d also imagine that they will take great pride in ensuring the organisation they work for will continue to be successful once they have retired from it.  Here’s the catch:  for continued success, an organisation will, at the very least, need to continue to provide an excellent product/service and it will need to have the best talent working there.  Is it possible to achieve either of these without adopting technology? 

Take technology assisted review (“TAR”), for example (TAR being a form of legal tech that seems to be making more than its fair share of headlines in the legal tech news space over the last few months).  As a law firm providing litigation services, would clients continue to pay top dollar for a piece of advice that took 10 times longer to get to, is probably therefore more expensive, and has an element of human error, when compared to a firm using TAR?  Would a junior lawyer with aspirations of becoming a top litigator choose to work at a firm that has TAR in place, so that they can spend more time understanding the client’s requirements and preparing the actual advice?  Or would they want to work somewhere where discovery is all still manual and they know they’ll spend some long days and nights ploughing through documents?

Where do we need to get to?

Now that we’ve (I hope) established that continued success will require continued innovation, who needs to be involved for successful outcomes? 

As per my thoughts on diversity generally, I think innovation in the legal tech space will produce far better outcomes with the input of all generations.  It’s not a case of, for example, a millennial driving the change and a baby boomer simply signing off on the costs (or not).  Each generation can learn a heck of a lot from the others (yes, I haven’t forgotten about the middle child of gen X).  It’s true that the product design of many new legal technologies might be largely millennial-led, given the latest technologies and the coding required are skills not often undertaken by those that are not digital natives.  However, the content of, and logic behind, the technologies requires the brains of those that have been there, done that – those that know what a successful outcome looks like in practice.  It’s those with the most experience that can contribute the most knowledge to new technologies.  

An example close to home for us is our free online will.  Although Matt Hay is no baby boomer, we knew we needed to work with someone with heaps of real life experience in drafting wills and administering estates - we wanted to provide a product that works well in practice.  

Try our free online will here!   


To be fair, although I have massively generalised and stereotyped, my personal experience hasn’t really resulted in a clear-cut distinction between the approaches of baby boomers and millennials.  I’ve specifically underlined the word “some” above, as it is definitely the case that not everyone within the same generation acts or thinks the same way.  This is going to sound a bit cliché (in the same way as when someone says: “some of my best friends are [insert minority group]”), but some of the most enthusiastic adopters of legal tech I’ve come across are baby boomers, while some of the least are millennials. 

Take baby boomer Bill Gates, for example.  A quote that is often attributed to him is:  “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it”.  I’m not entirely sure if there was some tongue-in-cheek when he said this, but I think there are some insightful takeaways here: (i) there’s no shame in wanting to find an easier way to do things; it should make the lives of everyone easier; (ii) businesses that will continue to be successful (attracting the best talent who will produce the best products and services) will continue to remember this; (iii) Oi! Bill, let’s stay away from linking innovation with laziness!


Topics: Future of Law, Document Automation, Legal Technology, Document Assembly

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