A call for work-life balance, change, mentoring

July 8, 2016
President’s Message By Melaine Shannon Rothey

Melaine Shannon Rothey delivered the following remarks after she was installed as ACBA president during the Passing of the Gavel ceremony at the Bench-Bar Conference.

By Melaine Shannon Rothey

Good afternoon – thank you for joining me at the 54th Annual Bench-Bar Conference.

During the past year, I have had the very rewarding opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the ACBA from Dave Blaner, Mark Martini and Jim Creenan. Fortunately, we share a common love for this association, and we are committed to not only sustaining it but nurturing it to ensure that it maintains its impeccable national reputation. 

To Jim – I wish you the best as you pursue your leadership role in the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce, but do not change your cell phone number because I still have it listed in my “Favorites.” 

To Mark – As I follow in your footsteps, I can only hope that my year will be as successful as yours has been. You have taught me to make sure to look at the bigger picture and evaluate how a difficult issue or request will affect both the organization as a whole and the members as individuals. I intend to continue to foster the projects that you started, in particular the Emerging Issues Subcommittee, which will guarantee that our association remains relevant in today’s world. 

To Dave – Hold on, you are not going anywhere. I look forward to another year of relying on your knowledge not only of local issues but of national trends so that the ACBA continues to meet the needs of our diverse members via publications, topical CLEs, insurance offerings, the Lawyer Referral Service and a wide variety of divisions, sections and committees. 

Please take a minute at the end of lunch to stop and meet my family. Beginning with my wife, Gretchen, who has put up with me for over 20 years, which my friends would tell you entitles her to sainthood. My daughter, Amanda, and her husband, Bob. My son Andrew, who is a member of the ACBA. My son Aaron, who will be attending the Ohio State law school in the fall. His fiancée, Kristin, is home studying for the July bar exam. But most importantly, the light of my life – my grandchildren, Nola and Alex. 

Last year, when I was visiting family in Williamsburg, Va., I found a book entitled “George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” As our Supreme Court has enacted the Rules of Civility, I picked up the book to leaf through it. According to the opening, when he was 14 years old, George Washington wrote down 110 rules that he extracted from a French book of maxims that were intended to “polish manners, keep alive the best affections of the heart, impress the obligation of moral virtues, teach how to treat each other in social relations, and above all, inculcate the practice of a perfect self-control.” Thinking that these are rules that we all should follow daily, I purchased the book. As I read the rules, I decided that I would begin each meeting of the Board of Governors by reading one of the rules. So, I have chosen a few to read that are appropriate for the Bench-Bar Conference: 

• No. 2 – When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered; 

• No. 7 – Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out your chamber half dressed; and 

• No. 100 – Cleanse not your teeth with the table cloth, napkin, fork, or knife; but if others do it, let it be done with a pick tooth. 

In 2016, our profession finds itself in a rather unique situation. We have four generations of lawyers in active practice today. We have the Silent Generation, many of whom are members of our 50- and 60-year practitioners. We have my generation – the Baby Boomers. We have the Gen X-ers, and we have the Millennials – the generation of my children. We even have a few members from the Greatest Generation. The members of each of these generations are convinced that they have not only all of the answers but all of the right answers. 

The Silent Generation – called that because children were to be seen, but not heard – grew up in the ’30s and ’40s prior to the end of the war. They lived through the Depression, the end of Prohibition, the bombing of Pearl Harbor through the German surrender to the Allies, and the dropping of the A-Bomb. They tend to be traditionalists, conformists and team players. 

The Baby Boomers were born after World War II through the early ’60s. Our lives were affected by the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the assassinations of JFK and MLK, the Vietnam War, the Beatles, Motown and a man walking on the moon. Boomers tend to be experimental and individualistic but free-spirited and oriented toward social causes. 

The Gen-Xers were born from the mid-1960s through about 1980. They saw the emergence of MTV, 18-year-olds getting the right to vote, Watergate, the birth of Microsoft, the bicentennial, the death of Elvis and John Lennon and the launch of Fox Broadcasting – thanks? Although they tend to be highly educated, they were the first generation to experience a lesser quality of life than the previous generation. 

Finally, the Millennials were born between the early 1980s and 2000. They experienced Reaganomics, minivans, Live Aid and Farm Aid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of the internet, “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Columbine, Y2K and 9/11. They are considered to be confident and tolerant, although with a strong sense of entitlement and increasing narcissism. 

So, how do these four generations, each with distinct characteristics, work together to further our profession?

I have a few suggestions: 

First, we must discuss work-life balance. I believe that it is essential for good mental health to consciously “check out” of the office. The line between work and home is seriously blurred. We do not have jobs that stay at work. We bring our jobs home with us every evening, every weekend and usually on vacation. As we all have cell phones, PDAs, iPads, tablets, etc., we feel compelled to constantly check our email. Somehow, we – and our parents and grandparents and great grandparents – survived without checking email three times every hour. For our own sanity, I suggest that we give ourselves a break. Dare I say – “turn the phone off in the evening or on the weekend?” “Blasphemy,” you say. OK. How about if you only check your email once each evening and maybe twice on the weekend or vacation? Give it a shot – I guarantee that your family will thank you. 

Second, we must discuss change. Just because we walked to and from school every day three miles uphill both ways does not mean that the next generation has to do the same thing. Change is not a bad thing. Just because we “always did it this way” does not mean that we should not try a new way to do things – if you still want to dictate your motions or your briefs, that is fine, if you can find an assistant that knows how to use a Dictaphone – but remember that it is OK for your young associates to draft everything at the computer, which they started using in elementary school, or to network in from home. They are adults with a law degree. You should be able to trust them to do their work and meet their deadlines even if they are not physically in the office. We grew up with abacuses and dial telephones, they grew up with iPads and cell phones. They cannot move backward to find us. We must move forward. We must adapt, and, yes, we must change. 

Third, let’s mentor each other. To the Silent Generation and the Boomers, be patient with the young’uns. They really do want to learn. Don’t throw them in the deep water and tell them to swim. Wade into the kiddie pool with them, hold their hand and demonstrate each stroke carefully and repeatedly. They will catch on and will probably improve upon the technique. Gen-Xers and Millennials, be patient with us. We are not trying to make you crazy. We are just resistant to change. We would be happy using carbon paper and IBM Selectric typewriters  — not that you even understand those references. As we kick and scream, take our hand and show us how to format the document or fix our own cell phone. Don’t just click, click, click and hand it back to us “good as new.” If you do, we will be in your office 10 minutes later with the same problem. 

Finally, my close friends know that I love children’s literature. As I read to my children and now read to my grandchildren, I am always fascinated by the lessons to be learned from children’s authors. So, I will finish with one of my favorite Judith Viorst poems: 



If I were in charge of the world

I’d cancel oatmeal,

Monday mornings,

Allergy shots, and also

Sara Steinberg.

If I were in charge of the world

There’d be brighter night lights,

Healthier hamsters, and

Basketball baskets forty-eight

inches lower.

If I were in charge of the world

You wouldn’t have lonely.

You wouldn’t have clean.

You wouldn’t have bedtimes.

Or “Don’t push your sister”.

You wouldn’t even have sisters.

If I were in charge of the world

A chocolate sundae with

whipped cream and

Nuts would be a vegetable.

All 007 movies would be G.

And a person who sometimes

forgot to brush,

And sometimes forgot to flush,

Would still be allowed to be

In charge of the world.