What do LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and a junior associate have in common? They all work best in teams. (As a rec league basketball player whose best playing days have passed, I’d love to say it’s basketball but sadly it’s not.)
In 2010, LeBron James (a millennial) engineered a super team in Miami, joining forces with fellow All Stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. At the time, Michael Jordan (a Gen X’er) openly scoffed at the notion of a great player joining his former opponents:
“There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry [Bird], called up Magic [Johnson] and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team.' But that's ... things are different. I can't say that's a bad thing. It's an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.”
In 2016, Kevin Durant (a millennial) followed LeBron’s lead — leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join fellow MVP Steph Curry and a stable of All Stars in Golden State. This time it was Charles Barkley (a Gen X’er) who openly scoffed:
"I was disappointed. I was disappointed like I was disappointed when LeBron went to Miami. Kevin is a terrific player. He's a good kid. But just disappointed with the fact that he weakened another team and he's gonna kind of gravy train on a terrific Warriors team. Just disappointed from a competitive standpoint.”
Jordan and Barkley value rugged individualism and champion the belief that a transcendent player can and should forge his own path to victory. James and Durant, on the other hand, value friendships and teamwork over the go-at-it-alone mindset.
To understand these dueling mindsets, just compare Jordan’s and Durant’s experiences on Team USA Olympic basketball squads.
The story goes that, on the 1992 Dream Team, Jordan ruthlessly competed against his fellow Olympian, Clyde Drexler, in practices — so much so that teammates worried Jordan was destroying the confidence of his USA teammate. Clyde The Glide’s transgression? Some media members wondered if Drexler could become as good as Jordan.
In the 2010 Olympics, Kevin Durant had his first chance to play with now teammates Steph Curry and Andre Iguodola. Durant loved Curry’s and Iguodola’s playing styles and, six years later, couldn’t pass up an opportunity to join them. While Jordan viewed the Olympics as an opportunity to assert his individual brilliance, Durant dreamed about creating a super team with fellow competitors.
Durant’s and James’ decisions are not remarkable, however, especially considering that 75% of millennials say that social aspects are very important to workplace satisfaction. See Neil Howe, Millennials in the Workplace: Human Resources Strategies for a New Generation (2010). Durant and James made major career decisions based upon social aspects — that is, based upon friendship and collaboration.
A millennial associate’s workplace is the law office and, like Durant and James, they want to work in teams with people they like and trust. As The Washington Lawyer aptly notes, “Developing a greater sense of collaboration within a law firm is a high priority. No one is locked away behind closed doors in new offices, unless it’s required for confidentiality.” See Sarah Kellogg, Law Office Design: Envisioning a New Archetype, The Washington Lawyer, June 2016.
The “Just Do It” mindset championed by Jordan has been replaced by the “Let’s Do It” mindset of today’s millennials.
The challenge for law firms is to explore ways in which their associates and partners can work together. Collaboration re-charges a young associate’s batteries, releasing that attorney’s most productive and creative self. So, let’s do it.